...Rises like a melodious Tower of Babel,exalting the incomparable beauty of universal harmony. CHRISTOPHER LOUDON, JAZZ TIMES
Without self-consciousness or over-complication, he undertakes the perilous task of finding a voice for “the citizenry of the world,” mixing languages from Latin to Zulu until, at the last, we hear the human voice in its purest incarnation, all languages simply vehicles which transport the sound . . . one can only bow before this world master of vocal music, who has fashioned a symphonic vocal poem of oceanic purity.
– Louis Séguin, Liberacion Paris
It’s a very different project for me, I’ve never worked so closely with another writer who could create around what I do. As an improviser, everything exists only in the moment, and then you let go of it. But in this context, Roger would hear something I did once, write it down and build the material into a fully scored theme and variations form, and then say, “Here, sing this.” It was old and new, mine and not mine. It was a challenge for me. BOBBY MCFERRIN
A formidable, magnificent album in which vocal music is taken up and lifted into a new, brilliant and surprising, amazing sphere . . . unprecedented choral timbres and sounds . . . a unique masterpiece. Don’t miss it.
BUENOS AIRES HERALD
Absolutely impressive . . . I’m awed by the intricacy, seamless beauty and aural-spatial scope of sumptuous vocal choir pieces written by Roger Treece and cleverly based on Bobby McFerrin’s improvisations . . .
– Paul deBarros, Downbeat
spiritually uplifting, utterly beguiling and deeply groovy . . .
– Ron Adams, The Sunday Herald Scotland
On VOCAbuLaries, McFerrin has found a way to express his love of the human voice in a recorded setting, but he has also managed to retain the vibrant adventurousness of his live performances. Perhaps collaboration is the true key here. The most crucial collaborator is composer/arranger/vocalist Roger Treece... The results are stunning. VOCAbuLarieS is a lengthy, demanding, occasionally challenging musical experience, but it rewards the patient listener, revealing new sounds and textures with each spin. –Ryan Reed, PopMatters.com
a hallowed circle of spiritual ritual . . . past tribe, past geography, only humans commenting on their own insignificance-and their power – in the vast universe . . . undiluted emotion . . . lush ...there are so many currents of polyphonic sound to be experienced throughout these expertly produced seven-tracks of high art, repeatedly clashing against each other, swirling over each other, bursting out of each other until something akin to an orgasm or nirvana is reached. Only an infallible belief in the good of the soul of humanity can produce such purity in these conflict weary times– L. Michael Gipson, Soul Tracks
one of the great discs of 2010 . . .
– Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
an album with a spiritual sound that reaches for new heights in the power of vocal music...
– Sur-Malaga, Spain
what people are saying...
Seven years in the making, "Vocabularies" is certainly the most ambitious McFerrin project to date and may very well be his magnum opus. For it is on this album that virtually all of McFerrin's wide-ranging musical interests are brought together in perfect balance. In a way, all of McFerrin's prior output has led up to this moment, the realization of a lifetime of artistic achievement.
I have always felt that the one thing missing from McFerrin's writing was the ability to take his fresh ideas and fully develop them harmonically and compositionally. Fortunately for all of us, McFerrin has found the perfect collaborator in composer/arranger and conductor, Roger Treece, whose prodigious gifts give McFerrin's ideas the harmonic and developmental lift they so deserve. The two worked together closely, first gathering McFerrin's ideas from past albums, recorded improvisations etc, weaving them into substantial compositions that average about 10 minutes in length.
Each piece is a journey unto itself, in which African, Eastern European, jazz, Western classical, R&B and pop elements bump up against each other, blending and recombining in a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of harmony and rhythm. Singers were brought together from various disciplines including world, classical and R&B to form a versatile virtual choir, facilitating the ability to create unprecedented choral timbres. I'm told that there were over 1400 vocal tracks in all. Lyrics were written in everything from Arabic to Zulu, comprised of 15 languages. While there are moments of Bobby's signature playful improvisations, for the most part the album is comprised of through composed music.
Superficially, this album hearkens back to the vocal complexities of Medicine Music, one of Bobby's most satisfying efforts, in which he overdubbed his voice to create an a cappella chorus which employed a minimum of percussion to augment the grooves. In a way, " Vocabularies" is a sort of "Medicine Music" on steroids. In fact three of the seven tracks on this album are re-workings of songs off of that album. But it's as though they've gone from black-and-white to color, from animated short to epic film. Consider the opening track, "Baby." Conceived as an innocent nursery rhyme with an African folk feel in its original form, here it is turned into a convoluted harmonic maze, constantly modulating and playfully cavorting, yet always returning to its original motif and key. The result is a feeling of expansive and deep childlike joy that is the hallmark of McFerrin's best work. Throughout the album, McFerrin's voice can be heard weaving and ducking, sometimes coming to the foreground for a moment, but the focus on this outing is clearly on the compositions, not Bobby's virtuosity.
Other highlights include "Say Ladeo," a joyous romp with an infectious chorus that comes as close to a pop tune as anything gets on the album. It's a pretty thing that would be a pleasure to hear on the radio...
Another surprise is the elegiac "Brief Eternity", the album's closer. It is a serious piece of Western classical music, supported here by string orchestra, winds and harp. Treece's impressionistic orchestration evokes Debussy's Nocturnes, especially "Sirenes", occasionally bringing to mind contemporary composer John Tavener's chorale sonorities. A spiritual longing permeates this lush piece, rising to quiet ecstasy in its satisfying finale.
The most profound piece for this listener is "Messages," a tour de force which effortlessly serves up elements of Eastern European, Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Western classical in a rich contrapuntal stew, seasoned with odd meters and exotic percussion. It is in this sophisticated composition that one begins to hear what may be a glimpse into the future of music in the 21st century, a future in which separate world music traditions come together as equals, each having its own unique voice, blending into a unified chorus in perfect harmony.
Considering the state of the world today in which civil discourse is becoming archaic, a world in which nations squabble with one another like ill tempered children, where the heart of barbarism still shapes the body politic in many parts of the world, Bobby McFerrin has given us a profound vision of a utopian society in which all members are respected and valued, a future where beauty and peace reign supreme.