Arts concert review

Jacob Collier: The art of musical intention

Jacob Collier performs at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Jacob Collier — RISE Music Series Season 3

Featuring: Jacob Collier, DoMi, Sput, Declan Miers, Yesseh Furaha-Ali, and DJ L’duke

Calderwood Hall, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Sept. 7, 2017

Jacob Collier is a 23-year-old, Grammy-award winning multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, producer, and vocalist from North London. His musical influences range from Take 6 to Brazilian pop to gospel and everything in between. He began to attract attention on the internet in 2011 due to his multifaceted Youtube videos, in which he plays every instrument and sings every part, all of which is arranged in a collage of boxes. These videos convey visually what Jacob does musically. There’s Collier in one square playing double bass, playing drums in another, singing a low bass part in another, and so on.

These attracted the attention of Ben Bloomberg, a PhD student in the MIT Media Lab. A subsequent Facebook message from Ben Bloomberg commenced a journey that would see to life Jacob’s transition from Youtube video to live performance. This has since resulted in Collier's one-man live show, a multimedia experience that pairs visuals with looping technology, allowing Jacob to run from instrument to instrument, building harmonically and rhythmically complex grooves layer by layer.

Last December, Jacob was here at MIT for his first college residency, one that resulted in a massive concert with over 150 musical participants from MIT, Berklee, NEC, UNH, and the Boston Arts Academy. This aptly named “Imagination Off the Charts” concert filled Kresge Auditorium to the brim, and was called a “‘perfect storm’ of circumstances and creative collaborations.”

This time around, Collier was performing at the Calderwood Hall in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. After, an exciting and musically sensible opening performance by DOMi, 18 year-old Berklee College pianist and keyboardist from France, and Robert “Sput” Searight II, drummer of the jazz-fusion collective Snarky Puppy, Collier began the night with a dazzlingly grooving rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Don't You Worry Bout a Thing.” From the moment he walked into the performance space, his unbridled joy for music as well as his warm and inviting demeanor filled the hall. In a song in which he builds a colorful samba groove from shaker and tambourine to drums and double bass, he also begins to build the image of the consummate performer.

Collier’s next tune, a dangerously funky rendition of Burt Bacharach's “Close to You,” featured behind-the-beat electric bass playing that straddled the line between effortlessly laid back and on a rampage; it was the type of groove that makes you shake your head and screw up your face. Next, Jacob played “Hideaway,” an original song; this was when, in its most pure and simple moments, I found Jacob at his most vulnerable and intimate as he sang about life, love, and people.

Part of the art of performing is knowing precisely when to give energy and attention outward and when to draw back and look inward. It’s been said that a good song is one that anyone can see themselves in and based on how the audience fixated on every note and word, it was clear that there wasn’t a single soul in the room who wasn’t connecting to the song, who wasn’t thinking about their own personal tales of love, both lost and found, as well all the people in their lives.

Another noteworthy song was Collier’s sparse rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “You and I,” a featuring solely his voice and the grand piano. In this cover, Collier’s smooth baritone juts into the vocal stratosphere with an angelic falsetto that fleetingly transports you in the heavens while he plays plays chords that welcome, deceive, and defy the ear. There are sublime moments of beautiful consonance jarringly interrupted by dissonant left turns that in summation never really assure you of where you are or where you think you’ll be, but assure you that you’re in a good place.

The most striking aspect of this concert and of Jacob Collier as a whole is his ability to hold the crowd. He is a performer in every sense of the word operating at an innumerable number of levels, constantly throwing musical gestures at the audience. He’ll construct a lush landscape and then abandon this landscape for a quick trip to another galaxy.  He’ll make you feel like you know and feel the groove, and then suddenly time and rhythm becomes an alien concept and you suddenly feel like you’re wading in a vat of plum pudding. This is a once-in-a-lifetime musician with a profound sense of the strong connection between emotions and music as a communicative vehicle. Every magical moment, spontaneous or planned, is grounded in a deep understanding of music through the lens of emotions. From the funky bass riffing in “Close to You” to breathtaking falsetto in “You and I,” this performance was full of these magical moments.

Jacob has been hailed, among other things, as the Messiah of the Jazz World. The labels and expectations the world of music has for him are sort of warranted, both in his current body of work as his limitless potential. Regardless, it is myopic to try to box him in right now. The most we can do as lovers of music is to let Jacob Collier be Jacob Collier. Things will be much more exciting this way.