Victor Wooten Band, Denver, CO, July 14, 2012
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
July 14, 2012
How low can you go? You can't go any lower than the Victor Wooten Band. The band is deep, it's low, it's almost all bottom. This is a band where five members play bass. That is to say, five bass players. In one band. They didn't all play at the same time. Saturday night, the most bassists we heard at one time were only four. That is to say, four bass players played at the same time. Frequently.
Morphine pioneered what the group called "low rock." But that band only had a two-string slide bass, a baritone sax and some drums. The only bands out there with as many bass players as the Victor Wooten Band are symphony orchestras. And those outfits tend to throw in a few dozen other players for good measure. The VWB has seven members. Wooten himself is a bassist and apparently he likes it so much he's surrounded himself with more bass.
Actually, all the band members are multi-instrumentalists. It just so happens that most of them play bass (at least part-time). Wooten himself started the evening on electric cello, with only three bassists behind him. The bandleader stuck to bass most of the eveningusually of the electric varietybut he also pulled out an acoustic bass, just to show everyone he could play that, too. He even strapped on a guitar for some scratchy funk on "Chameleon."
The instrument-switching occurred mid-song as often as it did between songs, requiring careful attention to keep track of what was going on. Bassists Steve Bailey and Dave Welsch doubled on trombone and trumpet respectively, and often picked up their horns with their basses still strapped on for a horn solo or some unison playing. Anthony Wellington was the most consistent bassist, staying in the deep end for most of the evening.
The only band members eschewing the bass were drummer Derico Watson and vocalist Krystal Peterson. Peterson doubled (tripled?) on keyboards and drums, while the other drummer, JD Blair, got into the bass action. Watson stuck with his drum kit for the entire evening.
The sound, as can be imagined, was deep and heavy. That's not only because most of the instruments dwelled in the bass clef, but also because the band was bursting with virtuosos which led, in turn, to lots of notes. When more than two basses were in action, one or more would work on the upper end of the fret-board to provide some sonic diversity. Throughout much of the evening, however, it was a little difficult to follow everything that was going on in the deep end. The concert environment is notoriously difficult to deliver crisp, defined bass sounds; even with some recent sonic upgrades at Cervantes, including the addition of baffles on the ceiling, the low-end sound was a bit muddy.
Nevertheless, when it counted, Wooten's bass came through with relative clarity. Not surprisingly, the band's namesake stood out front for a number of solos. Sometimes, he would play impossibly fast single-note lines, seemingly using all ten fingers at once. Another solo was mostly chords invoking a throaty guitar-like sound.
Wooten has earned a reputation as one of the top jazz bassists on the scene with his work over the years as a Flecktone, helping Bela Fleck bring the banjo back to jazz. Like the VWB, The Flecktones is a band of virtuosos, and the resulting sound is often fast, furious and intricate. The VWB shares some of those characteristics, but one big difference, besides all those denizens of the deep in the VWB, is vocals. Peterson was out front singing on over half of the tunes, with Wooten and other band members, including both drummers, adding backing vocals. Another difference between The Flecktones and the VWB is that, while The Flecktones play mostly original music, the VWB throws in covers on a regular basis.
Much of the instrumental playing was manic, frantic, dense and tense. Like the Flecktones, that's just what happens when you collect a number of instrumental masters, put them in one place and turn them loose. Many of the covers served to lighten the mood. Wooten pulled a couple from the Motown stable including "I Want You Back," a hit for the Jackson 5, and "Overjoyed" by Stevie Wonder. Equally soulful was "Tell Me Something Good."
Peterson, herself, was a contrast with her blonde pixie cut set against the serious backdrop of the male musicians predominately working on their bass guitars or drums. Bailey was a particular highlight of the evening. He holds the bass chair at the Berklee College of Music, and mostly played an electric, six-string fretless bassa feat that seemed to impress even Wooten. It was a massive instrument, but Bailey played it with a light, melodic touch. He and Wooten liberally sprinkled their solos with quotes ranging from Thelonious Monk to the Rolling Stones to The Wizard of Oz.