BURLINGTON--Day Two of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is in the books, and tonight was definitely something special, as the amazing, beyond-category vocal master Bobby McFerrin brought his new "spirityouall" show to the Flynn Center.
The new recording of the same name finds McFerrin presenting fresh interpretations of a fine collection of great American spiritual numbers in a variety of styles. He was inspired by the work of his father, the noted operatic baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr., and this album shares three songs with one recorded by the elder McFerrin in the late 1950s...but the results are all Bobby, doing the things he's known for best: Vocal percussion, dazzling impersonations of instruments, and seamless transition from deep bass notes to extreme falsetto within a note or two.
Though McFerrin is best known for his solo vocal endeavors (and with a talent like his, a band is not even necessary in most cases), he is backed by a full band on this new effort, and what a band it is: Keyboardist/accordionist Gil Goldstein (who's worked with pretty much everybody who's anybody in the jazz world), multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield (who counts guitar, violin and lap steel among his arsenal), guitarist Armand Hirsch, bassist Scott Colley (featured on several of the last Michael Brecker tours I saw) and drummer/background vocalist/guitarist Louis Cato (whose singing blended so well with the leader that some of us thought he was McFerrin's son). The band provided the perfect accompaniment to the dazzling vocals as the styles changed between gospel, country, blues, and--of course--jazz.
It's hard to decide on a highlight of the concert, because the whole thing was a highlight from start to finish (running nearly two hours without an intermission, and only the shortest break before an encore that was well-earned in this case. Every tune was a true gem, no matter what the style (and it wasn't uncommon for something to take a stylistic turn mid-song). Part of the charm of it all was that it was never certain when McFerrin would take the place of any instrument that was playing, and the solos and melodies were simply all over the place, yet delightfully so.
He was also engaging with the audience, inviting people to come up to the mic and contribute a verse of "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" and even taking requests for a while; whether he truly knew the song or not, he and the band would give it a try. (And thankfully, requests for "Don't Worry, Be Happy," shouted from near where we were sitting in the balcony, were either unheard or ignored.)
On the page for this album on McFerrin's website, he says the following: "What I want everyone to experience at the end of my concerts is . . .
.this sense of rejoicing. I don’t want the audience to be blown away by
what I do, I want them to have this sense of real joy, from the depths
of their being. Then you open up a place where grace can come in.” I think it's safe to say that tonight's audience left with a sense of joy and were blown away by what you did, Bobby. So glad you could grace us with your presence tonight.
Another voice: Arts writer Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press also has a review of the concert.