Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Musically and joyfully spirited away


Musically and joyfully spirited away

Musically and joyfully spirited away
Bobby McFerrin, best remembered for infamous and ridiculously catchy "Don't Worry, Be Happy," held his audience captive for 90 minutes in a triumphant and inspiring display of some of the most joyful music-making I have ever witnessed. McFerrin's mellow, peaceful nature on stage did not disguise an obvious exuberance for the message of celebrating faith and the human spirit through music on this tour (and his latest album),spirityouall.
The evening was packed with a diverse selection of musical genres, from gospel to Latin to R&B to bluegrass and beyond arranged by band member Gil Goldstien. In an homage to his father Robert McFerrin, famed operatic baritone and specialist in spirituals, McFerrin included a few familiar gospel tunes on his spirityouall project. His fresh treatments of these tunes were each more interesting than the last, including a vampy, relaxed "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," subdued and folksy "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and a jazzy up-tempo shuffle reworking of "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho."
Despite the 1000+ people in attendance, McFerrin created an intimate, welcoming, and comfortable atmosphere. Time especially seemed to pause during his a cappella mini-set of two short songs. Accompanying himself by singing bass line, harmony, and melody all at once through clever rhythms, nearly undetectable breaths, and a constant, clear tonal center, McFerrin convinced the listeners they were hearing all lines at once, with rarely a break in the sound. His finely tuned techniques included impeccable scat singing, thoughtful yet still organic phrasing, percussive chest taps, incredible sustain, and circular breathing. Appropriate application of his wide-ranging vocal timbre—from nasal to breathy to full and rich—added depth to every work.
Opening up his musical world further, McFerrin invited a few brave and impressive audience members to join him in singing a couple of choruses of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." It was impossible to suppress a big goofy smile during this song (and several others) for not only the happy nostalgia it evokes, but often the sheer silliness of McFerrin's interpretation. Throughout the concert he flexed his improvisatory muscles by sneaking in snippets of popular themes from TV and film (Green Acres and "I'm Late" from Disney's Alice in Wonderland), classical standards (Bolero and Peter and the Wolf), and switching from a schmaltzy Elvis Presley impression to a slinky lounge singer to a squeaky, twee baby-voice.
The concert wasn't necessarily all feel-good, however. McFerrin showed off a rougher, tougher edge with down n' dirty blues renditions of "Fix Me, Jesus," "Wade in the Water," and a gritty, feel-it-in-your-belly setting of Psalm 25:15. These still fit with the theme and energy, though, as a raw emotional release through highly spiritual lyrics. One of my favorite songs of the night was "Woe," a sorrowful, soulful R&B McFerrin original, as well as the set list closer "Rest/Yes Indeed," an upbeat bluegrass-inspired medley also penned by McFerrin.
Bobby McFerrin (Photo by Carol Friedman)McFerrin brought with him a strong foundation of multifaceted musicians. Each artist was allowed time to shine through solos and other moments highlighting his abilities throughout the show. Apart from the stellar arranging, Gil Goldstein effortlessly played keyboards and accordion. Armand Hirsch and David Mansfield laid down energetic guitar rhythms, with Mansfield further expanding the group's sound by providing violin, mandolin, and lap steel guitar expertise. Jeff Carney's bass solos often rivaled McFerrin's scatting, and drummer/bass ukulele player Louis Cato shined not only on his instruments but as backup vocalist, too.
Concluding the show, McFerrin took requests from the audience for his encore. Inevitably, "Be Happy" was called out, to which McFerrin calmly replied, "I am happy, thank you very much" before performing a brief interpretation of the Beatles' "Blackbird" which morphed into Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" and eventually the American spiritual "Glory, Glory (Lay My Burden Down)."
REVIEW:Harriman-Jewell SeriesBobby McFerrin: spirityouallFriday, April 26, 2013Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, MOFor more information, visit http://hjseries.org
Top Photo: Bobby McFerrin (Phoot by Carol Friedman)