A singing queue leaving the stage whispering notes while dancing to them. A thin piper in dreadlocks leading the line using his own innate pipe, his voice. The clapping of the audience in the background. This is probably the image that best describes the main act of the 30th edition of Jazzkaar: Bobby McFerrin with his Gimme 5 band, augmented by the popular native vocal ensemble Estonian Voices.
The Alexela Kontserdimaja was filled with people and expectations, since Bobby McFerrin’s contagious positive energy is such a powerful magnet that everybody was willing to absorb some of it.
The stage was arranged with McFerrin sitting in the middle surrounded by two wings of singers symmetrically displayed to his left and right: David Worm, John Blake on one side, Judith Vinar and Rhiannon on the other to complete his Gimme 5 band, and the Estonian Voices split in two halves, Kadri Voorand, Maria Väli, Liina Saar and Rasmus Erismaa, Aare Külama, Mikk Dede.
The first forty minutes of the concert flowed quite rapidly, like one long, uninterrupted piece initiated by McFerrin in solo and slowly rising in volume as the other singers were switched on by him either through a move of his hands, an intense stare in their eyes, or a vocal cue. The overall effect was like having an orchestra of human instruments commanded in a smooth, natural way by a conductor who, instead of agitating a baton, was gently suggesting the next direction of the music.
If it wasn’t for his ordinary shirt and jeans he was wearing, McFerrin could have been mistaken for a shaman, one of those priests emitting apparently meaningless syllables, which magically transform into melodies. And when the ten voices near him were already creating a solid musical background behind him, he turned towards the audience in his typical call and response game, where the audience was invited to echo him. At times this game ended in a giant collective laugh as the demanded responses were too difficult to reproduce, but it helped the people to get involved and share the feeling of participating in some sort of musical mass.
In the middle of the concert there was even some room to improvise a tender duet with a small girl randomly picked from the first row, and before that to give space to the Estonian Voices alone for the joy of Kadri Voorand, who seemed a lion in a cage up to that point, eager to pour her deal of energy as well in the hall.
There was actually room for each of the Gimme 5 singers to showcase their skills: Judith Vinar in a funky tune, Rhiannon in a caravansary leading the audience in the middle of the desert, John Blake with a chant and David Worm, who made the entire hall sing and clap. A pleased McFerrin quietly observed all of this while peacefully sipping from his mug.
It was a bit disappointing not seeing the ensembles returning to the stage after having charged the people in the room, and in spite of the pleasant moments here and there during the concert, it felt like something could have been better. Or maybe with McFerrin on stage, the expectations are always so high that there is always the wish to get something more.
Alexela Kontserdimaja, Friday, April 26, 7pm
Bobby McFerrin Gimme 5 with Estonian Voices
Bobby McFerrin: lead vocals
Judith Vinar: vocals
David Worm: vocals
John Blake: vocals
Mikk Dede: vocals
Liina Saar: vocals
Aare Külama: vocals
Kadri Voorand: vocals
Maria Väli: vocals
Rasmus Erismaa: vocals
Check out photos from the concert here