Somewhere There’s Music

Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Tuesday,
January 30.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Bobby_McFerrin.jpgUCSB’s Arts & Lectures rewarded the
faithful on Tuesday evening with a return concert by Bobby
McFerrin, this time leading his extraordinary 12-voice choir,
Voicestra. McFerrin is moving so fast right now that it’s hard to
keep up with him. Of all the wonderful concerts I have attended in
Santa Barbara in recent months, this one provoked the most outright
disbelief from the audience. People left the theater actually
asking each other, “How did they do that?” It was like a magic

There were no scores, no set lists — just pure, soulful vocal
improvisation. The first piece lasted approximately an hour.
Voicestra defies any known formula for the popular music group,
most closely resembling an a cappella opera cast engaged in an
obscure multicultural ritual. The group not only confronts the
chasms of racial assumptions (the extraordinary human beat box is
David Worm, who is white), it also dissolves generational divides,
with singers well into their later years treated on an entirely
equal basis with their younger counterparts. Rhiannon, who took a
daring, bluesy solo while the rest of Voicestra sat out, bears
little resemblance to the commercial model for the marketable soul
singer, yet she showed she can out-sing and out-soul virtually
anyone on the charts. Extemporaneous and never the same twice, the
whole production straddles an increasingly interesting line: It’s
an avant-garde approach that has pop roots and appeal.

McFerrin has incredible communication skills. His conducting on
Tuesday ranged from intimate interactions with individual singers
that had uncertain outcomes and played like private jokes, to an
extended sequence in which McFerrin actually played the audience,
extending his solfège and gesture teaching technique across the
sold-out venue, all the way to the back row. It was simply amazing
how easy it was to know when McFerrin meant you and not the person
behind you, and even more amazing how hard it was not to sing
along. From any perspective, McFerrin’s skills in bonding with an
audience and in integrating expression with reception have to be
counted among the most useful, fascinating directions in
contemporary performance.


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