Bobby McFerrin performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center January 24th, and in typical McFerrin fashion, it was a special event. He was there with a group of outstanding musicians (Gil Goldstein-Music Director, Piano, Accordion; David Mansfield– Violin, Mandolin, National Resonator Guitar, Lap Steel;hArmand Hirsch– Acoustic and Electric Guitar; Jeff Carney– Acoustic Bass; Louis Cato– Drums, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Vocals; Madison McFerrin-vocals) who had the task of keeping up with his kinetic energy. As they switched from one instrument to the next with each song, it was clear this was an exceptional band of artists up for the challenge.
The set included fifteen songs, one encore, and countless improvised moments. The framework for the night was the most recent album, Spirityouall (Sony Music 2013), a collection of re-worked spirituals. There were many variations on the classic hymns and contemporary songs motivated by a bond with a higher power, such as one of this examiner’s favorites, “Whole World”. The ear could identify the melody, but with McFerrin, it’s so much easier to relax and enjoy the ride.
Some members of the audience did not get to sit back and allow the music to happen; a few were given microphones to join in on the singing. One young woman received the ultimate praise by being asked to improvise with McFerrin onstage. She followed his lead with great results, as he sang “Fix Me Jesus”.
McFerrin made the ears happy. One suspects this was his goal when performing as if it was a warm gathering of good friends in his living room. His energy was a sheer joy to behold. Spirityouall emerges as a gift to an audience of music lovers over stimulated by the busy-ness of the outside world. McFerrin reminded us that a familiar melody, a tune deep in the recesses of memory, and a shared story are the things that keep our senses in the loop with each other.
Whenever Rose Theatre is in the round, there is a different feeling in the air, as if the formality fades and the energy is a bubbling 360 degrees. It fits for a night of connectedness between artist and audience. The sheer folly of watching a planned show go sideways for a moment of inspiration far exceeded the cost of admission. After all, set lists are over-rated.
Spirityouall is available now; Bobby McFerrin will be touring with the album for the next two years.