Published Mar 02, 2015Brooklyn's Taylor McFerrin headlined a late Sunday night of funk variations at the Alexander on March 1. Following Claire and the Mothership's Lauren Hill-indebted neo-soul lounge, and a Tonye Aganaba duet that sprinkled in some more reggae and hip-hop flavour, McFerrin took the stage with a hurried energy, looking as if he just got off the plane; he walked directly onstage at midnight and went straight to work plugging in his gear.
McFerrin expressed gratitude for being booked at Timbre's new venue, stated his intention to deliver improvised renditions of the polished compositions from his solo debut album, Early Riser, released on Brainfeeder in 2014, then promptly set to work utilising its lush PK Sound to the fullest. He started off with the ambient bird chirping intro from "Invisible/Visible," extending the track's length and landing on a much harder boom-bap beat than the smooth original on which his father Bobby McFerrin and one Cesar Camargo Mariano appeared. He then transitioned flawlessly into an abridged version of "Postpartum."
While McFerrin said that he wanted to bring a "one night only" vibe to the stage, and his renditions of album tracks were, indeed, markedly different from their recorded versions, it still didn't feel like the most improvised set. Granted, after a couple tracks, McFerrin threw down a little beatboxing, starting off downtempo before transitioning to drum and bass, fingering synth leads and bass lines under his crisp vocal percussion, and there was a section before the encore that he built up layer by layer, adding percussion and Rhodes piano melodies until it became a Latin house banger. Moments like these sounded fresh. In contrast, however, "Decisions" was performed primarily on his Akai APC40; he injected a deep rave vibe into the extended rendition, but he was not all that active on the MIDI controller.
While "Florasia" showcased his rich singing voice, presented relatively untreated while he jammed a few chords and triggered the odd effect or sequence, he proved himself to not be the best rapper when he dropped an ill-advised cover of "Mercy" by Kanye West, but he used the occasion as a brilliant segue. Admitting that he has watched YouTube videos of himself that showed him that he probably shouldn't rap, he then invited a few local emcees onstage to freestyle over a beat he threw together. He clearly takes to collaboration well.
His set was capped with a percussion-heavy version of "Everything in Its Right Place" by Radiohead that sounded like BADBADNOTGOOD might have done it. This song featured his longed sustained play on the Rhodes, smoothly transitioning into a reprise of "Invisible/Visible," which brought the evening to a symmetrical closing.
Overall, McFerrin came off humble and professional. Even though he only has the one 40-minute long album to his name, he played for over an hour straight, rewriting new twists and turns in everything he performed. Seeing him take time from playing melodies with his right hand and tweaking Ableton with the left during "Already There" to briefly mime Thundercat's dexterous bass picking was only one expression of his pure joy. Flashing a peace sign when he left the stage, the back of his shirt was wet with sweat that betrayed his effort.
And yet still, it felt like a small taste of his skill, employing more pre-recorded samples than live performance. But if he has a fraction of his dad's raw talent, he's going to lay waste someday soon.