After 10 GRAMMYs, I guess you can record anything you want. Bobby McFerrin’s latest project wanders off into an arty new world of a capella extravagance, polyrhythmic drumming, and softly ambient orchestration. It’s oddly compelling, but it does sound like he’s singing backwards most of the time. There’s even an overture, although it doesn’t actually excerpt the remaining seven tracks.
VOCAbuLarieS isn’t just tricky with its typesetting; it mixes a number of styles to make a new effect. McFerrin’s voice is in there, but he doesn’t present himself as more than another backing singer. There’s plenty of high-priced talent surrounding him, voices from Manhattan Transfer and Lisa Fisher are just some of the help he’s recruited. By recording all the voices individually, his composer Roger Treece could take hundreds of tracks and make them into something new. Was Auto Tune involved? Hard to say, everybody sounds suspiciously in tune but nobody sounds like Daft Punk. What they do sound like is an odd, possibly African language bending itself to Western tonal scales. The tracks are distinct, yet they flow from one to another with only the slightest pause to inhale. This is where modern jazz ought to have ended up if it hadn’t gotten wrapped around its own “too cool for you” introspection. I’m not sure if this complex melodic structure will catch on or remain on the planet of Bobby McFerrin, but it’s a refreshing new soundscape that uses actual musical skill to create, and not just a singer yelling louder or faster.
Bobby McFerrin: www.bobbymcferrin.com