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Bobby McFerrin: Beyond Words

Jim Santella By

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As the universal language, music has always had one problem: how to translate the words so that everyone will understand their meaning. French, Portuguese, English, and several African dialects are quite familiar to jazz fans. Some listen to German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese or Spanish singers often. Are we fluent in these languages? It's not necessary. Pagliacci had a passionate story to tell, and even those who don't know Italian understood his message. Priests sing the mass in Latin, and only a small percentage of the flock cares to translate literally. It's the general meaning that matters.

Bobby McFerrin overdubs to create a choir of voices that seem to come from different countries around the world. His wordless application for this album resembles a collection of different languages. From Northern Europe, through Africa, Asia, and the Americas, he wanders. By coupling his composed impressions with carefully crafted "languages," McFerrin takes the listener on a world tour. Along the way, he brings us swinging, inventive jazz that derives from the tradition. By limiting the session to vocals with moderate accompaniment, the singer assures the listener of a memorable adventure. Variety weaves through the album gracefully because of its contrasting regional impressions. However, the lack of a sideman soloist to share the spotlight rolls everything together in one long haul. It's like viewing the slides from your brother-in-law's summer vacation.

Two tracks stand out for their variance from McFerrin's suite-like journey. Chick Corea's "Windows" features an exemplary piano/vocal duet, while the final piece finds the singer/pianist/composer wandering aimlessly in search of his audience. It's impressionism, but this time the focus sends the listener back in time to the earliest forms of vocal music. Bobby McFerrin is an outstanding communicator. This time out, he takes the listener on a long and arduous journey, adds a little swing and doo-wop to the itinerary, and ensures that we all catch on.


Track Listing: 1. Invocation 2. Kalimba Suite 3. A Silken Road 4. Fertile Field 5. Dervishes 6. Ziggurat 7. Sisters 8. Circlings 9. Chanson 10. Windows 11. Marlowe 12. Mass 13. Pat and Joe 14. Taylor Made 15. A Piece, A Chord 16. Monks/The Shepherd

Personnel: Richard Bona: Bass. Cyro Baptista: Percussion. Chick Corea: Piano & Keyboards. Gil Goldstein: Accordion & Fender Rhodes. Omar Hakim: Drums. Bobby McFerrin: Vocals, Keyboards. Taylor McFerrin: Beatbox. Keith Underwood: Flutes.

Title: Beyond Words | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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