Early Riser – Taylor McFerrin (2014)

Early Riser album cover
Early Riser album cover

With a new year comes new music, or at least new to me. This year’s first pleasant new discovery (after D Angelo’s latest) has been Taylor McFerrin’s Early Riser. Nevermind that the album came out last summer, I’m just now catching up to it. It was worth the wait (or delay).

As it turns out this McFerrin is related to a more famous one who happens to be his father. Like his father Bobby, Taylor mixes up genres to create a contemporary hybrid.

While Bobby is known for jazz and classical work, his son chooses to blend electronica with jazz and R&B. There are moments on Early Riser that recall everything from Burial to Aphex Twin. There’s even a song that reminds me vaguely of an old McDonalds commercial (“Florasia”).

The album starts out strong with the Chad Valley-like “Postpartum”. Its one of the few songs with McFerrin’s own voice. Its sometimes difficult to tell if this is electronica that uses jazz and R&B as a accent or the other way around. In the end it adds up to great chill music, the kind of alternative R&B you might hear from How to Dress Well.

There are moments throughout of R&B and jazz fusion like with “Already There” a song that features heavyweights like Robert Glasper and Thundercat. “Already There” illustrates the effortless weaving between styles that makes this album as much at home in the jazz, R&B or electronica bin of your local record store (or e-tailer). The question of ‘what is it?’ might have held back Early Riser as it often has for music that defies easy categorization, but  McFerrin actually scored a few near hits on specialized charts during the second half of 2014.

In common practice in today’s music scene, much of Early Riser benefits from guest artists. McFerrin who himself has been a featured collaborator on projects for well over a decade calls in favors from vocalist Emily King and RYAT. On “Place In My Heart” one of the few songs with any singing, RYAT sounds a bit like Bjork. Ferrin’s voice is equally rare, but his father shows up on “Invisible/Visible” along with jazz pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano.

Despite the jazz and R&B bits, Early Riser is more and electronic album that leans towards chill R&B/jazz. Its a sophisticated take the kind of R&B meets jazz that’s become rather popular today (ie Robert Glasper etc.). As a relatively new and promising artist, I hope we hear more from McFerrin this year. This time I doubt I will need to play catch up.

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