Bill Murray usually graces today’s screens with his entertaining facial expressions and voice, bringing grandpa-like comic characters to life. Until now, his only musical appearance was as Baloo from the blockbuster movie The Jungle Book. Murray now takes the spotlight with his newly released album, New Worlds, in which he jauntily sings and ardently performs spoken word.
Murray is not alone in his musical endeavors, as the project was co-produced by German cellist Jan Vogler, who is featured on every track pairing deep bass notes with Murray’s voice to create a truly new experience. The two met in an airport, Murray commenting on the size of Vogler’s cello case, and from there a friendship, both personal and collaborative, was born. The two’s playful relationship seen in performances and interviews adds to the overall album. I like to imagine Murray and Vogler, riding a tandem bike along the Santa Monica seaside and sharing an ice cream. The pair of artists collaborate well together, creating a new theatrical album that hasn’t been done before.
Murray demonstrates his originality in New Worlds through his unusual pairings of classic American poetry with European symphonic or concerto pieces. The introductory track joins Camille Saint-Saёns “The Carnival of the Animals” with Lucille “Blessing of the Boats.” While the two works are unrelated, the cadence of the poem, read out in a slow, almost melodic tone by Murray, goes perfectly with the cello’s sweeping, ascending whole notes in a major key. After Murray closes the track with “may you in your innocence / sail through this to that,” a light piano drifts away like the tide that Murray has created.
Murray’s voice provides a perfect podium for different sides of the song to be appreciated. For each track, which differs to the next in tone and character, Murray changes his reading voice and poem selection to best fit the composer’s style; after all, Gershwin is no Mozart and vice versa. The overall album, with its constant ranging styles, offers variegated tracks that transforms the listener’s mind into a hullaballoo of sound and color.
The album then moves into a mix of tracks that are comical– see “Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano: 2. Blues (Moderato)/If Grant Had Been Drinking At Appomattox” where Murray acts out an imagined drunken Confederate general.
Murray also pays homage to his characteristic comedic side through these tracks; a shift away from the solemn poetic tone created by the other tracks. Murray’s singing in the three tracks from West Side Story is so endearingly unrefined as he croons out the Broadway classics. His almost naive voice creates a nostalgic feeling, similar to when an uncle or relation has had a little bit to drink and starts to sing and tickle the ivories at a family gathering.
Murray and Vogler’s album is an expressive demonstration of the power of multi-media art, as the two take a tour through a wide spectrum of emotions and the different ways of evoking those feelings. While each of the tracks are articulated and performed beautifully, the real artistic genius lies behind the combination of the musical pieces and the poetry. Murray’s entrance onto the stage is a grand one, and hopefully it will not be the end of his venture into other forms of artistic expression.