No one really noticed the quiet, contemplative figure who was sat listening to young pianist Charlie Staceyplay an enthralling opening set at Ronnie’s, yet bass titan Victor Wooten did just that. Perhaps he was sizing up the crowd, more likely he was just caught up in the music.
Either way, by the time he hit the stage shortly after, he seemed to have the measure of this hallowed jazz space. Remarkably, this was the bass boss’s debut appearance at the club – his starry bandmates, Dennis Chambers and Bob Franceschini, have both appeared before – and the relaxed atmosphere was perfectly conducive to Wooten’s most playful instincts. Quite possibly the most technically gifted bass player of his generation, Wooten’s status beyond the bass world has seen him grab Grammy Awards with banjoist Béla Fleck and tour alongside fellow low-end legends Marcus Miller and Stanley Clarke. He joked with a wry smile: “I always wanted to be Stanley – I’m the short version”.
This is just one example of the bassist’s natural good-humoured showman tendencies, which are deeply imbedded thanks to having been playing gigs from the age of six with his Wooten Brothers family band. While there are countless proficient copy-cat players today, few know how to bring the house down with a carefully deployed body-spin, like Victor, deftly leaving his bass stationary, seemingly floating in the air as he pirouettes on the spot to grab the bass and eye-ball the crowd with a knowing stare. It took the audience’s breath away. So much so he paused briefly to ask someone in close proximity “are you OK?” They were. Just. While this may be old-school stage-craft, it helps leaven the sheer density of notes that fly from him hands – his trade-mark ‘double-thumbing’ slap style capable of unleashing furious volleys of sound – almost like a tuned drum solo, which takes the lineage of Larry Graham’s innovative percussive slap into another pyrotechnical universe.
The trio format allows each of these excessively skilled players space to roam – albeit initially with Wooten’s bass volume pushed to excess for the first three or four songs. The latterday delicacy of Chambers’ once steam-roller funk drumming was nearly little lost in the mix, but as the sound evened out the subtle beauty of his stick-work shone through. He didn’t hold back all the time though, ramping up the tension with some dizzying metric shifts and thunderous solo breaks. Franceschini, like Wooten, made tasteful use of myriad effects to expand and harmonise his angular single note lines, sometimes creating a one-man sax chorus, while his solo sparring with Wooten sent bebop-esque sparks flying. Drawing mainly on music from the trio’s 2017 Trypnotyx album, the songs showcased the rhythm section’s mastery of dime-stop timing and huge shifts in dynamics – very often dropping to near silence – or actual silence – for pure dramatic effect. The bassist’s renowned solo spots are always a highlight of his gigs and tonight he conjured soft chordal swells, pianistic two-handed runs and an increasingly long melodic loop, adding each extra note with Samurai-like skill to produce an unplayable snaking cascade. This compelling sight and sound even managed to stop the waiting staff in their tracks to simply marvel at the bassist’s bewitching sonic magic.
– Mike Flynn; http://jazzwisemagazine.com
– Photos by Christian Doho