TAYLOR McFERRIN: ‘Early Riser’ (Brainfeeder)

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Taylor McFerrin is the scion of ten-time Grammy winner, Bobby McFerrin, a jazz singer who crossed over big time in 1988 to score a massive global hit with the feel-good acapella anthem, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ McFerrin Jr has a lot to live up to, then, in the eyes of some onlookers, but while this debut LP reveals that he possesses his father’s penchant for ingenuity and innovation, he’s most certainly a different kind of musician. Unlike his father, he’s not a virtuoso vocalist but rather a shape-shifting, multi-tasking architect of evocative 21st century soundscapes: a producer and DJ as well as a keyboard player whose influences are steeped in old school soul, jazz and hip-hop. By melding these elements together and filtering them through his psyche, McFerrin has arrived at something truly unique and memorable.

‘Early Riser’ opens with the spellbinding ‘Postpartum,’ a dreamy slice of ambient electronica whose lush, welling chords rise up to create the sonic equivalent of surf crashing on some exotic shore. The mellow mood is maintained by the gorgeous ‘Degrees Of Light,’ where soft, enveloping synth patches and delicate bird-like warbles entrance the listener into a somnolent state. Nai Palm (a singer who fronts the Antipodean group Hiatus Kaiyote) supplies ethereal vocals on the shimmering ‘The Antidote,’ while McFerrin’s own R&B-inflected voice adds a soulful vibe to the sonic tranquillity of ‘Florasia,’ a mellow electro ballad fleshed out with diaphanous synth orchestration.

More layered synthesisers characterise ‘Stepps,’ a track whose opulent, cinematic textures are reminiscent of Vangelis’ ‘Bladerunner’ score. The bubbling keyboards of the instrumental ‘Already There’ – featuring Thundercat on bass and Robert Glasper on keys – has echoes of composer Steve Reich’s mesmeric micro-minimalism but has more warmth and charm. Singer Emily King provides haunting reverb-drenched vocals on the excellent ‘Decisions,’ which is distinguished by flitting keyboard parts and propelled by a jittery funk backbeat. It also possesses an infectious melodic hook. Another female vocalist, RYAT – McFerrin’s Brainfeeder label mate – delivers a striking cameo on ‘Place In My Heart,’ while Bobby McFerrin guests on the atmospheric, jazz-tinged ‘Invisible/Visible.’

This beautifully realised album is much greater than the sum of its many, multifarious, cut-and-paste parts. Despite its many guest contributors you still get the feeling that Taylor McFerrin is the centre of its universe and remains uncompromising in achieving his aesthetic vision and sonic goals. Certainly, ‘Early Riser’ is as aurally arresting, singular and unconventionally soulful as Melanie De Biasio’s brilliant ‘No Deal’ album from a couple of months ago. As such it deserves reaching a large audience. One of the best albums of 2014 so far …in any genre.

(CW) 4/5