Picks and Pans Review: Play
Jazz singer McFerrin, the human synthesizer, had a major crossover hit in 1988 when he enjoined everybody, "Don't Worry Be Happy." Then he took time off to study classical music and, as a present to himself on his 40th birthday in 1990, to conduct the San Francisco Symphony in Beethoven's Seventh. He's back now with two collaborators—and mixed results.
In Hush (Sony Masterworks) there are far too many times when one wishes McFerrin had taken the album title seriously. He should have kept his vocalise and, worse, his shall-I-compare-me-to-a-summer's-day self-infatuation to himself and turned over the proceedings almost exclusively to his gifted classical cellist collaborator. In most instances, notably Vivaldi's "Andante" and Barrière's "Allegro Prestissimo," McFerrin, ululating, is an infuriating distraction. In that student recital warhorse, Rimsky-Korsa-kov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," he contributes a lot of inane buzzing. And he's merely silly, imitating a stuffy English conductor, in a purported parody of a Bach musette.
McFerrin is most effective in his own compositions. In the lovely "Grace," he sounds like a harp, and he's wonderfully raucous in his arrangements of "Hush Little Baby" and the down-home "Hoedown!"
On the whole, McFerrin fares better teaming with virtuoso jazz pianist Chick Corea in the aptly named Play (Blue Note). The two do a reasonably funny—if overly self-satisfied—burlesque of "Autumn Leaves," shoobee-doos, parody lyrics ("I see your face, I smell your breath") and lounge singer flourishes (deep sighs, long pauses, briskly snapping fingers). McFerrin creditably scats his way through Ornette Coleman's serpentine "Blues Connotation" and offers up a fine, controlled yet emotional version of Thelonious Monk's most famous ballad, " 'Round Midnight." When he isn't being too cute, McFerrin is fun to Play with.