Love Bomb: Victor Wooten Trio at The Ark
Bass wizard Victor Wooten had a sold-out crowd craning forward in their seats to hear note one last night at The Ark. When the first downbeat came, it was followed in short order by a slipstream of ringing harmonics that quickly resolved into a deep-in-the-pocket groove. Although that groove would evolve and shapeshift throughout the evening, it would never fade entirely.
Wooten was joined by master drummer Dennis Chambers (of Parliament/Funkadelic and Santana fame) and saxophonist Bob Franceschini. The trio is on tour supporting the release of their new album, Tryptonyx, a genre-b(l)ending tour de force that showcases each musician’s considerable technical chops without ever losing sight of the pure joy that funk can bring.
Not for nothing has Wooten been named Bass Player of the Year three times by Bass Player magazine. In the trio’s opener, “Liz & Opie,” he took each chorus as an opportunity to showcase a different style of play, switching from slap bass to chordal accompaniment to a walking line with preternatural ease. After this mini master class, Wooten mixed and matched with freewheeling abandon, trading bars with Franceschini. Chambers jumped into the fray as well, maintaining a rock-steady heartbeat while also pushing back against Wooten and Franceschini with driving polyrhythms.
During the second tune of the set, a Franceschini original called “A Little Rice and Beans,” the trio blew the solo section so wide open that they managed to fit two other songs in the middle of it before returning to the tune’s head to close it out. To the delight of the fans, one of these two interludes was a throwback to one of Wooten’s earliest albums, a track called "My Life."
In the midst of a rangy rendition of "Zenergy" -- another fan favorite, which Wooten coyly noted he wrote with ‘A banjo player named Béla Fleck’ -- Franceschini bowed out for a bit as Wooten and Chambers embarked on a wild series of tweet-length iconic bass riffs from two decades’ worth of chart-toppers ("Smooth Criminal" and "Brick House," to name just two).
Throughout the evening, the crowd was fully engaged and the energy was palpable, with audience members regularly voicing amazement and giving vocal feedback. At one point, when a solo had reached fever pitch, Wooten struck a sustained high note and gently wobbled the neck of his bass to keep it resonating. Picking up on this, an audience member in the back crowed, “Hold it, Vic, hold it!” Hold it he did, grinning in acknowledgment as he continued to sustain the note while beginning a totally fresh bassline beneath it, to the audience’s delight.
Also on display during the show was one of Wooten’s new toys, a piece of equipment called FretTrax that allows his bass to double as a MIDI controller, essentially controlling a bank of sound patches on a laptop. This allows him to continue to play bass while also layering other sounds atop it and controlling them all using the bass itself. These sounds included an organ, a flute, and many things in between. By embracing FretTrax, Wooten has answered the question, “What happens when someone who already makes the bass sound like five instruments has the technology to make it sound like any instrument?” To integrate such a range of pedals and sound patches so deftly into a performance is a feat in and of itself, and Wooten used the flexibility it provided to great effect, especially in the case of keyboard and organ sounds. That said, he is still at his best and most exciting when playing with and responding to his bandmates, and the "new toy" effect sometimes threatened to detract from the human musical interaction that made the show such a joy to behold.
The trio closed with "Cupid," a song from the new record. Wooten framed it with a long intro, asking the audience, “There are a lot of bombs in the world. Bombs being made to kill people, to make countries afraid of each other. What I want to know is: Who is working on a bomb that makes people love each other? I think that bomb already exists. It’s called music. Music is the only time when we all agree.” With that, they launched into a joy-filled and uplifting finale and were met with an immediate ovation and unyielding applause. Having already played a generous two-hour set, they took the stage for one encore, "Funky D," appropriately ending the night on an unbridled avalanche of funk.
Nicco Pandolfi is a freelance writer and a graduate student in Information Science at the University of Michigan. He mainly writes about what he mainly thinks about: music and food.