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Taylor McFerrin - 'Early Riser'

Alexander Brown
Staff Writer / @relaxandaspire

A couple weeks ago Taylor McFerrin, offspring of the legendary Bobby McFerrin, released his first LP, Early Riser, to much acclaim. The album has been in the works for several years and builds upon tracks already released incrementally. McFerrin, who produced the album as well as played all the instrumentation except for a few notable guests, builds on the sound propagated by Flying Lotus on his Brainfeeder label, through which Early Riser was released.

When commerce takes over from fear, Early Riser will be the type of album much loved by the philosophical crowd in the marijuana bars. Tangentially related to jazz in that McFerrin is an educated musician, the album is much at home with the ambient sounds played in the dead of night on college radio stations.

Early Riser is easy to digest upon first listen, feeling as smooth as the third glass of whiskey. So easy, in fact, that the first few times the album plays it passes by too quickly. Some tracks are more guilty of this than others, “4 am” clocks in at interlude-worthy forty seconds. “Blind Aesthetics” at a minute ten. Besides the mathematical reasons, there is just a feeling throughout that you aren’t finished with any one track and therefore aren’t prepared for any of them to end. It’s easy to see how, for this reason, improvisational players could have a field day playing these songs live.

But repeated listens will uncover new sounds and hidden depths each time. Easily forefront are the keys, guitar, guest vocals, and programming, all of which build luscious melodies. The rhythm section on second glance are great stars of this album as well, keeping with soft funk traditions and blending into the type of production work coveted by up-and-coming hip-hop MC’s.

The guests on the album don’t so much as lend their talents as much as they temporarily become apart of McFerrin’s band. Vocalists Emily King, RYAT, Nai Palm, and Bobby McFerrin all easily integrate into the sound crafted by Taylor. Adding an extra element of coolness are Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Marcus Gilmore, and Caesar Mariano with their respective talents. With such a powerful array of artists McFerrin could have easily become overshadowed by one or more, as what happens on certain hip-hop producers’ debuts. But the painstaking approach by McFerrin keeps these guest track authentically his.

Early Riser, in its entirety, makes a solid case for the classification of certain jazz styles as black-American classical music. Furthermore, it’s adding to the spate of recent albums that are oriented for a full listen, rather a few good singles and otherwise filler. Taylor McFerrin’s work deserves a few full hard listens for maximum effect, a feat which is not just manageable, but listeners will delight in.