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Basso Profundo: Oteil & The Peacemakers Live at Nectar's Burlington Vermont

Doug Collette By

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History will show that the enistment of Oteil Burbridge as bassist for The Allman Brothers Band was the first major step towards the reconfiguration of that seminal Southern group that now boasts all the potency of any lineup that's ever worked under that name. Recruited in 1997 to take the place of Allen Woody when he and Warren Haynes left ABB, Burbridge put together his own crack band a few years later, the savvy likes of which lit up Nectar's with their leader this otherwise drab mid-winter night.

Oteil & the Peacemakers are a deceptively powerful quintet and their early set, for all its tasteful, playful moments, gave only slight indication of what they're really capable of. Perhaps its was the leader's choice, based on the obvious relish he takes being front and center, in contrast to his ABB role, where he is comparatively reserved—but the music in the first hour or so, despite its authentic Southern roots in R&B and soul, was almost forgettable in its understatement.

Certainly, keyboardist Matt Slocum's tasty interchange of Hammond organ, electric piano and clavinet lent a series of crisp texture to the sound. And Mark Kimbrell called to mind Booker T & The MG's Steve Cropper more often than Jimi Hendrix—in comparison to the high voltage second set, while vocalist Paul Henson impressed more by what he didn't do: over-sing, try too hard to be soulful or engage in distracting physical histrionics.

That was left, unfortunately, to Oteil, who round about half hour into the set, had done all the scat singing necessary to impress and needed do no more twirls and pelvic lunges to convince the audience he was enjoying himself. Though, to be fair, the crowd responded heartily to those moments as much as they stared in rapt admiration at the prodigious facility the young bassist has with his instrument: whether strumming, chording, picking or simply letting his fingers dance on the six strings, Oteil Burbridge brings to mind the giants of contemporary electric bass, most notably the late Jaco Pastorius and Alphonso Johnson, the late eccentrics predecessor in Weather Report. The ability to rumble as well as soar (and touch all points in between, like those delightfully twinkling harmonics) is the mark of a truly great bassist. During this late night show of February 17th. Oteil Burbridge fully demonstrated why he deserves that designation.

Allusions to jazz-rock fusion become more appropriate when discussing The Peacemakers' second set. Though they did not abandon the firm gasp on blues or the alternately swampy, smoky textures that flowed through the first hour in this Burlington club, the quintet extended itself into the realm of fusion and hard rock by dint of Oteil's more focused playing—on all three of his singular-sounding basses—and choice of material.

Notwithstanding Burbridge's delicate solo piece early upon return to the stage (in a gentle gesture of homage to the late Allen Woody) or the royal treatment given one-hit wonder Sugarloaf's "Green- Eyed Lady" early in the first hour, the interpolation of Hendrix with AC-DC, titled "Pink Storm," the never-ending ingenuity Burbridge displayed, and the ratcheting up of Kimbrell's own soloing in both intensity and intricacy, was close to jaw-dropping.

By the time Oteil and the Peacemakers left this Nectar's stage once inhabited by Phish (in another time and redesigned place), not only were the musicians satisfied with the reception they had received—especially in comparison to the handful of listeners the leader jokingly recalled from a year or so prior—but all who had stayed till the end had witnessed a band with much more potential than they might at first seem to possess.

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