By himself, Bobby McFerrin is unconventional enough. What he does with his voice, layering all the harmonies and counterpoint necessary to create free-standing performances, was thought impossible a few short years ago.
Add Chick Corea, an extremely flexible pianist at home in most any musical context, and it becomes almost as avant garde as Corea once was with his trios and quartets in the early 70s.
Consider some of what happened, both on and off stage at the Chautauqua Institute Amphitheater Friday night. McFerrin began voicing a low-pitched tone that seemed to come from the incredible depths of what on normal people are called lungs.
Corea doodled just a little before reaching into the piano to strum a few strings. McFerrin joined him inside the piano, rapping out a drum roll. Corea switched to mallets, and before long they were right in the audience, both of them vocalizing, fencing with their wireless microphones, miming an argument and finally collapsing back on stage.
Not much music to start it out -- instead, a lot of pure performance art.
It could have been a comedy skit, or even straight improvisational theater. Immediately obvious was the fact these guys were working without a net and were loving every minute of it. It was infectious. Most of the near capacity crowd present was loving it too.
Some had come to hear McFerrin perform his Grammy winning, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," but that would never come. Soon after that recording became such a phenomenon in 1988, McFerrin took 1989 off. He only returned to performing at the beginning of this year.
Rather than capitalize on his exploding popularity, he merely followed his own advice. It just goes to prove that McFerrin is an artist, more so than a media star.
So he was not here to rehash old successes, but to break new ground. It was "Welcome to Bobby's World!" as he exclaimed from his on-stage recliner.
There were bits of conventionality, however: their rendition of "Autumn Leaves," McFerrin's a cappella rendition of his composition, "I'm Drivin' My Car," (the only tune from his "Simple Pleasures" recording that surfaced all night) and the beautiful interplay of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," which McFerrin performed for the film's theme.
Still, McFerrin, 40, and Corea, 49, were there, simply and somewhat selfishly, to have fun! This was the last of only six dates they shared.
At the end of the night, McFerrin confided to us his pet issue, begging us to see the seriousness of it all, despite its apparent superficiality.
"In order to deal with all the problems of today's world," he said, "set aside an hour a day to go completely off your rocker, much like we have tonight."
Then they each poured a glass of cold water over the other's head.
Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea
Vocal sensation and facile pianist perform Friday night at the Chautauqua Institution.