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Beyond Words (2002)

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Gil Goldstein

Creative vocalist Bobby McFerrin's return to Blue Note after a nearly ten-year absence indicates a possible desire for a return to improvised jazz, and in a way distancing himself from the classical works he had become increasingly associated with. Working again with pianist Chick Corea and producer Linda Goldstein, his 2002 album, Beyond Words, is reminiscent of the other McFerrin/Corea collaborations (Play, The Mozart Sessions), but somehow these mostly improvised works lack the spark that their previous partnerships have created. Ably backed by Corea's bright piano, Omar Hakim on drums, and Richard Bona on bass, the songs feel to be all the same texture for the most part, never reaching any kind of a peak throughout the album. Beyond Words is a moody and dark affair, with subtle layers of McFerrin's undulating vocals weaving in and out of the musical bed, but instead of sounding earthy and natural, the album is punctuated by synthesized instruments that pull the recordings dangerously close to smooth jazz territory. Unfortunately, by taking one of the most articulate players of man's earliest instrument and layering it in slick, fretless basslines and synthetic Roland XP-80 chords, it almost defeats the purpose of hearing his voice altogether. Still, it is an excellently performed and cleanly produced document of both McFerrin and Corea's abilities, ideal for gentle background textures on a night in alone. ~ Zac Johnson