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Spirituals Performed The Bobby McFerrin Way

Bobby McFerrin performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2008.. (AP / /Dave Martin)

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If you ever have doubts about what the human voice can do, just take a listen to Bobby McFerrin. Whether he’s scatting, whistling, or beat boxing, he opens his mouth, you drop your jaw.

McFerrin brings his latest project, “spirityouall,” inspired by spirituals his father sang him, to Symphony Hall this Sunday, courtesy of the Celebrity Series of Boston. He’s accompanied on the tour by a five piece band with unique instrumentation including bass ukulele, national resonator guitar, and lap steel. Given the way he uses polyphonic singing, putting a new twist on even the simplest songs, the thought of his performing work like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is enough to make you weak in the knees even before Sunday’s concert.

Bobby McFerrin in the Ukraine in 2010. (AP /  Efrem Lukatsky)

Bobby McFerrin in the Ukraine in 2010. (AP / Efrem Lukatsky)

Touring and recording “Spirityouall” (scheduled for May release) isn’t the only thing keeping McFerrin busy. In addition to performing solo, he continues to conduct such prestigious ensembles as the London Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. McFerrin’s most recent album “VOCAbuLarieS” is a collaboration with composer/arranger/producer Roger Treece and over 50 other vocalists. McFerrin used multi-track recording to create an ecstatic, full bodied blend of world music, jazz, and other genres that will surprise listeners who are only familiar with his solo work. All About Jazz reviewer Mark Turner says “The seven compositions are all defined by their playfulness and infectious rhythms, as well as their unique vocalizations and interplay.”

Playful, unique, and infectious are all words that can be applied to “spirityouall.” Here’s a taste of what you can see in Boston. The video shows McFerrin in a recent concert performing a spiritual solo. He uses his feet, chest, hands, and voice to create a groove which he improvises and sings over, demonstrating a sense of command over the material and what he’s doing with the music. It’s a truly joyful noise.

Not only is “spirityouall” a showcase of McFerrin’s music, it’s also a tribute to his father. Robert McFerrin was an operatic baritone who made history when he became the first African-American man to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.

McFerrin once said “His work influenced everything I do musically. When I direct a choir, I go for his sound. His musical influence was absolutely profound. I cannot do anything without me hearing his voice.”

See what he means at Symphony Hall. Whatever he sings, odds are you’ll stop worrying and be happy.

Claire Dickson is a 16-year-old jazz vocalist. She has received five Downbeat Student Music awards and is a 2013 National YoungArts Foundation honorable mention winner. You can see her acting in Youthquake Theater’s “Macbeth” this weekend as a witch. Her website is clairedicksonmusic.com.

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