“2016 has been an unexpectedly gloomy year for musical genius. I’ve written before that the domino-like deaths of David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Bernie Worrell and a host of other beloved musical icons suggests that the high level of creative excellence inaugurated in the late 1960s and ’70s by musicians like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix may be on the wane. But even if old-school mavericks are leaving us quicker than we’d like, you can’t easily overlook the rise of a new generation of boundary-pushing musicians with commanding technical chops like Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding. Add to that list 21-year-old YouTube phenom Jacob Collier, whose warmly humanistic debut In My Room securely positions him as this year’s wunderkind-to-watch.
A precocious North Londoner and conservatory-trained jazz pianist, Collier seems to have no creative limits. Besides gleefully tinkling the ivories, he plays a cornucopia of instruments like electric bass and double bass, drums and percussion, melodica, guitar and ukulele, and he’s also not afraid to go ham on the accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, tabla, autoharp and banjo. He has a lithe tenor, informed by pre-adolescent turns in operatic productions like Turn of the Screw and Wozzeck. He’s awfully fond of stacking his own vocals via multi-track technologies like loop pedals and harmonizers (the latter are custom-built in tandem with MIT graduate student Ben Bloomberg); he can also play these technologies live. His much-watched YouTube videos — which he’s been posting since age 16, and in which he harmonizes with multiple versions of himself and plays every instrument, like a musical version of Michael Keaton cloning himself in Multiplicity — confirmed that he’s an incredibly inventive cover artist. But with In My Room, Collier proves that he can also write, arrange and produce his own original jazz-meets-funk-meets-pop tunes too — in terms of stylistic influence, think Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Jamie Lidell, Take 6 or maybe Bernhoft. And Collier can do so at deeply self-assured, skyscraper-high levels of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic acuity.“