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McFERRIN-CSO - McFerrin's Style Leaves Everyone Happy (Chgo Trib, June 8, 1996)

Saturday, June 8, 1996



Music review

McFerrin's Style Leaves Everyone Happy

By David Duckman [David Royko]

Special to the Tribune

It is about as easy to classify Bobby McFerrin as it is for the

proverbial group of blind men to describe the elephant--it all depends

on what happens to be in front of you at a given moment. His performance

with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night at Navy Pier's Skyline

Stage was unique and entertaining, no matter where one's tastes happen

to lie.

Known primarily as a vocalist with a genius for scat and an

exceptional range, on this night McFerrin also played conductor, vocal

coach and standup comedian, and kept the proceedings flowing seamlessly

as he leaped from one persona to another. The core of his show was the

half-hour unaccompanied segment that concluded the program's first half,

which he began by shooing the orchestra off the stage and asking the

audience to give a round of applause "for this fine band," a line

delivered with a perfectly accented impersonation of a lounge lizard.

He then launched into a funky, improvised vocalise, into which he

incorporated Wednesday night's Bulls score, the planes flying overhead,

the evening's weather, his attire and the fact that his family was

seated in the third row.

Soon after, he was involving the audience in a series of

sing-alongs, covering the Beatles ("I Want You" and "Blackbird"), the

theme from "Peter Gunn" and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." He ultimately

played the audience as if it were one of those huge plastic keyboards

that one plays by jumping from key to key, schooling the crowd to sing

certain notes depending on where on the stage he leaped.

Most amazing of all was his rendition of the Bach/Gounod "Ave

Maria." Asking if anyone in the crowd knew the piece from beginning to

end, he ended up with a brave woman standing beside him, with her

singing the melody while McFerrin flawlessly sang the accompaniment, in

a display of technique that was as dazzling as it was beautiful.

He concluded his solo set with what could be called a "Wizard of Oz"

operetta, playing and singing all the roles before finally dousing

himself with a glass of water and melting away.

If this were not enough, it turns out that McFerrin is no dilettante

when he picks up a baton. His performance of Bernstein's Overture to

Candide sparkled, the strings singing sumptuously through the "Oh

Happy We" theme, while Gershwin's American In Paris benefited from

McFerrin's deep understanding of jazz, with his dramatic application of

rubato bringing out the piece's hard-swinging rhythms.

McFerrin and the CSO will repeat this program at 8 p.m. Saturday at

the Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora. Phone 708-896-6666.

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