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November 20, 2004

From heads to toes, a winning combo

Star-Ledger:

Tap dancer Savion Glover makes an easy fit with his current touring partner, vocalist Bobby McFerrin. Meeting center stage to exchange a friendly handshake at the start of their whimsical, shared concert on Wednesday at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, the two improvisational artists looked like contemporaries. Both wore relaxed clothing, and their heads sprouted complementary tangles of braids. McFerrin, though, is more than 20 years older than Glover. He made his debut at the Kool Jazz Festival in 1981, three years before Glover was discovered as a prodigy at an audition for "The Tap Dance Kid." Ironically, Glover seems far more mature.

McFerrin takes an approach that seems childlike, leading the audience in Romper Room sing-alongs during his segment of the program, teasing us by making humorous, unexpected noises, and displaying his encyclopedic knowledge of "The Wizard of Oz." In contrast, Glover turns his face upstage and submerges himself in a world of complex rhythms and colored sounds, interacting with his five-piece band while his feet produce a steady but ever-changing pattern of virtuosic taps. Glover's art is the epitome of sophistication.

What brings these artists together appears most evident in the show's opening segment, where Glover and McFerrin face off to explore the possibilities of their respective arts, extracting nuances of sound from their feet (Glover) or the human voice (McFerrin), not to mention the microphone that McFerrin blows into or rubs against his shirt. This polyglot dialogue, conducted mostly without words, is a tour de force. Phenomenal, too, is Glover's performance with his band, which features musical director Tommy James on piano, Brian Grice on drums, Patience Higgins on reed instruments, James Zollar on trumpet and Andy McLoud on bass.

At the start of his own set, Glover taps around the perimeter of the dance floor as if to take possession of it. Around him the band produces a loose texture of sound that drifts like smoke around Glover's solid rhythms. Then he cues them with a series of hard slams, and Higgins picks up the rhythm on his saxophone. What follows is an amazing journey, as original music pours from Glover's feet, based on this rhythmic foundation. His taps have a speed, consistent strength and diversity that seem superhuman.

Glover prompts individual band members to engage in dialogues, and when a particular avenue of discussion seems exhausted, he backs up and his feet ask another question. Throughout these conversations, his lithe and muscular body shakes and storms. The talented young tapper Marshal Davis dances a solo interlude, giving Glover a break before he returns to present a new composition. Titled "Stars and Stripes Forever -- For Now," this dance seems like a multicultural call for peace in the world. "We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord," Glover intones, as his ensemble launches into a "Caravan"-like travelogue, weaving melismatic, Middle-Eastern influences into a broad, lush theme that advances in a stately manner, then suddenly shivers as a jolting riff of electricity passes through it.

McFerrin returns for playtime after intermission, prompting the audience to sing along to familiar tunes like "Ave Maria" and "99 Bottles of Beer." While many people of a certain persuasion identify with Judy Garland's character in "The Wizard of Oz," McFerrin aspires to take ALL the roles, and he does a hysterical, one-man version of the movie in which he completely absorbs its world of fantasy.

Posted by acapnews at November 20, 2004 12:05 AM