McFerrin’s extended Vocabularies

Bobby McFerrin
UMG/Decca CD

Bobby McFerrin and many many friends

Vocalist, composer, and conductor Bobby McFerrin has won ten Grammy’s and acclaim for his tremendous musicality, as well as his eclectic approach to a host of musical styles. It’s refreshing that he seems increasingly willing as the years pass to take his time and refine a project. His previous recording was eight years ago. His latest, VOCAbularies, was some ten years in the making.

In a recent interview with John Schaefer on Soundcheck, McFerrin also mentioned that this patience has infiltrated his performance demeanor. McFerrin said that he no longer felt he had to work so hard with his voice, that he didn’t have to force things. He was more willing to trust the instrument; more willing to accept how it behaves from day to day. This level of trust in one’s technique, continual thirst for exploration, and acceptance of the ebb and flow, the digressions and surprises, allows McFerrin continue to be a formidable force in the high-wire realm of vocal improvisation.

McFerrin has proven again and again to be a generous collaborator. One notices the painstaking detail with which all of the vocalists and instrumentalists who appear on the CD are cited for their various contributions. And while McFerrin, in fine voice, takes a central role in the proceedings, he graciously shares the spotlight with a number of other singers. Vocalist/composer/producer Roger Treece serves as a frequent co-author and co-arranger on the recording. He seems to have a fine understanding of McFerrin’s musical and sonic predilections. If anything, his work helps to keep things on an even keel in terms of traffic control, balancing the myriad voices in the mix. This is particularly challenging on “Wailers,” a live track from a concert in Norway on which some 2500 audience members are heard! There are few places where audience participation manages to come off without a hint of mawkishness: this is one of them!