The Komedia, Brighton
Tuesday 5th July 2016
A queue stretching down the street outside the venue showed that Stanley Clarke’s appearance at Love Supreme Festival on the preceding Saturday night had whetted rather than blunted local appetites for fusion bass wizardry. Victor Wooten got straight down to business, taking to the stage to roars of acclaim to treat the faithful to an extended solo bass guitar improv that took in all his trademark slaps and taps, double-thumbing, harmonics, improbable pitch bends and slurs, alongside a torrent of soul-to-bebop licks and quotes from the Beatles’ Day Tripper. The band members joined him, one by one, and together they set off on a high-energy jazz-rock exploration. Fat basslines from Anthony Wellington on 5-string underpinned Wooten’s muscular solos; frantic semiquaver passages came to a sudden dead stop and re-emerged as a jaunty reggae; heavy guitar breaks alternated with some surprisingly restrained dynamics – and all in the first number. The band champion the good, old-fashioned fusion verities that were well in place by the mid 90s – thunderous funk rhythms, chiming altered guitar chords over heavy bass ostinatos, fleet unison runs, lots of bravura solos. Derico Watson‘s impressive feature on drums, starting with choked-sounding, fractured beat displacements, illustrated how the biggest advances in the genre’s vocabulary have of late mostly been made in his department.
Wooten obligingly faced into different sections of the crowd so everyone got a chance to check his skills. The first part of the set was a ferocious, intimidatingly super-tight exhibition, but when he took to the mic he revealed himself as a warm, quirkily humourous host, and I Saw God The Other Day revealed the band’s vocal abilities in an engaging Zappa-style soul pastiche with a serious message, before turning it into a marathon of slapping, tapping and whacking, much to the crowd’s delight. Iris Eyes, written for his daughter, provided an interlude of melodicism, whereas second bassist Wellington’s solo spot was another extended dose of funky paradiddles against the fretboard.
Then things took a sudden, unexpected shift in direction as Wooten’s brother guitarist Reggie took centre stage. Whatever his undoubted skills and originality as a guitarist, and his pivotal role as a mentor to the entire musical Wooten clan, it’s debatable whether his skills as a singer warranted the presentation of an extended medley of such hits from yesteryear as I Want You Back, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix’s Fire and Prince’s Kiss all delivered in enthusiastic but approximate renditions, like a wedding band on their final set of the evening. It took a riveting, deeply sincere solo exploration of Amazing Grace from Victor to put the evening back on track again.
In other hands, Wooten’s chosen brand of high-octane fusion can tend towards the off-puttingly clinical, substituting technique for emotion. Wooten’s own relaxed, soulful sincerity shone through the whole performance, reflected back in the absolute devotion of the generations of fans who packed the house. The chops are amazing as well.