Victor Wooten Band @ Beachland Ballroom, May 29
Rare are the opportunities for a concert goer to experience quite as bodacious of a sound as that of four masterful bass players and two world class drummers delivering a battery of original sounding funk, soul and highly technical jazz instrumentation to the belting lyrics of a talented and vivacious singer. And that was just the second song of the Victor Wooten Band’s first set. The song was titled Brooklyn after the NYC borough where Vinny Fodera’s legendary Fedora Bass factory is located and where Victor’s signature Yin Yang Deluxe Bass was made. The new lineup for Wooten’s band is a roll call of heros for fusion jazz fans billed plainly with the following phrase: “New band. New Sound. New Experience.”
[All Photos by Michael Stein]
There was barely an untrained eye in the crowd as the band took the stage at the Beachland Ballroom Tuesday evening in the land of Cleve. The first hint of what was to come was an orchestral arrangement of the Flecktones’ classic Sunset Road playing over the PA as the musician crawled to their perches amidst a sea of the worlds’ finest made instruments scattered homogeneously across the stage.
Victor Wooten unexpectedly donned a Cello and began plucking and bowing at its strings as the remaining rhythm section – i.e. the rest of the band – churned up the melody for Crystal Peterson to take center stage and serenade the audience with the original song titled A Woman’s Strength. Her slender and youthful appearance is merely bonus for the gazing eyes of the audience because Peterson is as talented as they come. Her incredible vocal power and unique flow was demonstrated during Brooklyn with Victor at last on his bass guitar as she led the band through a journey of soulful lyrics followed by a section of co-syncopation with Victor and his bass notes, an impressive skill to say the least.
Peterson showed a range of other skills throughout the show as she bounded the stage filling in on just about any instrument that needed an extra pair of hands including a drum solo on JD Blair’s kit when the humorous drummer took center stage to close the set with strangely titled song, Live in 2012. The remainder of the band made their marks during Brooklyn as well, first when bassists Dave Welsch and Steve Bailey picked up a trumpet and trombone to carry the band into a NOLA influenced funky breakdown that led directly into a chorus of the Rufus and Chaka Khan hit Tell Me Something Good before taking it back to the city of Brooklyn to end the song. At this point, barely 15 minutes into the show the audience had gotten their money’s worth to the fullest. This was definitely going to be a fun affair.
The technical barrage of musicianship continued to flow through fun and mesmerizing numbers as the band continued to break out new instruments to complement the “lead bass” power of Victor Wooten and his dominant stage presence. The next track, My Life gave the famed front-man an opportunity to show his true form in a bass solo supported by JD Blair encouraging the crowd that “it’s okay to clap your hands on the two and four” as Wooten hammered at his instrument procuring sounds no other player could conjure.
The funky good time and Motown parade continued throughout the first set including a Jackson 5 chorus of I Want You Back segued into the famous riff from Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man in the middle of the song House. Steve Bailey took center stage with a fretless 6 string bass to showcase a montage of rock and roll melodies and improvised phrases that exemplify the reason why this man has recently earned the position as Director of the Bass Department at the Berklee College of Music, a position he stated he would be bringing “new ideas” to this upcoming semester. This led into Imagine This featuring Peterson’s vocals and lastly the set closer with the previously mentioned Live in 2012.
The second set contained far less fresh music, yet was equally delightful featuring the spectacular showmanship of Victor’s electric bass stylings in a range of combinations with the members of the band. Victor and JD started the set with a funky jam in Yo Victa > U Can’t Hold No Groove. The full band re-entered that stage for Victor to display yet another form of “bassmanship” on the upright double bass with Steve Bailey on the electric upright as well for the two to engage in dueling bass solos in the song Get it Right. Watching Bailey’s hands on that instrument is must do for anyone who gets the chance because he is a technically masterful player. The band continued with Overjoyed and a Stevie Wonder cover with Peterson on vocals, before reducing the numbers back down to Victor, Bailey and drummer Derico Watson for an old song titled Chick from Korea, of which, Bailey exclaimed “Victor remembered 70% of and I remembered 40%, thus we gave you 110% in that song.”
The musicians then left Victor alone finally to do what he does best, turning his bass into an orchestra of loop sampled sounds for his famous solo version of the Beatles song Yesterday followed by his heartfelt, funky, multi-tonal homage to Amazing Grace, which featured JD Blair laying down the beat. At last, the full band joined Victor to close the set with the title track off their new album Sword and Stone and an encore with the song Heaven, which pays respect to all the family members, Wooten’s and otherwise, who have passed along and whose memories should not bring sadness, but rather joy and remembrance.
This was only the band’s third show together and so far the sound is incredibly tight and the experience, as promised, is something completely new. You can catch The Victor Wooten Band delivering its jazz, funk and soul shakedown to nearly all the states of of the Union this year on a full-fledged tour across the nation. From the experience in Cleveland Tuesday evening, this show is sure to continue on a trajectory of new and exploratory material in and outside of the pocket.