"If you listen to a lot of music, it gradually seeps into your consciousness or your unconsciousness and comes out in your music." ~ John Abercrombie
Victor Wooten has listened to, and played, a wide variety of music in his lifetime. An extremely precocious young lad, he picked up a bass guitar at the age of only three years old, thanks to the urging and tutelage of his older brother Regi. The entire Wooten family is musically talented, with many of them displaying their abundant skills on Palmystery, Victor’s newest solo release.
Today, Victor Wooten is one of the finest and most decorated electric bass players of our generation. In addition to his many years as an integral member of the bluegrass jazz fusion group Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Victor has participated in many various and diverse side projects plus releasing numerous previous solo releases. He is comfortable in whatever setting and genre he tackles. My personal favorite side project of Victor’s was his masterful appearance, as one of numerous guest bassists, on rock/blues/jam band Government Mule’s "The Deepest End" concert. That concert took place after the band’s original bassist, Allen Woody, passed away. The list of guest bassists that showed up that night was truly impressive (Jack Casady, Les Claypool, Roger Glover, Rob Wasserman, etc.) and Victor’s shining presence made a profound and lasting impression.
On this 2008 release, entitled Palmystery, his debut solo outing for Heads Up International, Victor leads a talented assemblage of musicians through a journey of genre boundary stretching material. The overall tone is an ode to the joy of life from this seasoned veteran who’s still invigorated by a youthful exuberance. "2 Timers" starts the disc with a driving bass solo, that proceeds into jazz fusion territory, with the harmonica, beautifully played by Howard Levy, adding great texture. The two drummers and the horns weave their magic to the energetic mix that also includes violin, mandolin, and keyboards.
"Cambo" has an Arabic feel with chant-type vocals by Amir Ali. It’s as if Ali Baba is hiding from the forty thieves, readying for a stealthy escape. The drumming by Derico Watson awakens memories of Bill Bruford on some of his more progressive poundings. The world music/African inspired "I Saw God" provides a good change of pace. The thought-provoking lyrics of the song belie the bouncy tone and are left open to be interpreted differently. One possible way is that because everyone looks like God (made in His image), everybody should be treated with that same high level of respect.
"The Lesson" is a lesson in how to make just a solo bass guitar get your head bobbin’ as Victor demonstrates his remarkable chops with some extraordinary virtuosity. The CD insert says that the bass is done without overdubs. It’s almost the musical equivalent of "The Flying Wallendas" performing without a net. It’s a most impressive display of his unlimited chops. Guitarist supreme Mike Stern appears on "Left, Right, and Center" and shines bright enough to almost overshadow the song having three drummers (JD Blair, Dennis Chambers, & Will Kennedy) working hard. Excellent organ courtesy of Neal Evans (of Soulive), and choice killer bass work that mirrors the guitar, contribute to make this a number that cooks from start to finish. Chance of pace, frantic to funky, and all areas in between, make this one a masterful fusion recording. Bravo!
Mike Stern is also featured on "Sifu," a Chinese word for teacher, and gives the tune a Frank Zappa jazz exploration feel. The drumming of JD Blair is relentless and the bass solo Victor lays down is a delight. Shawn "Thunder" Wallace adds some fine alto sax playing, with the vocals, some spoken, mixed down in the mix. "Miss U" is one of the most easily accessible songs on the release. It skips merrily along with a feel-good vibe and features the Lee Boys. The Lee Boys consists of brothers Alvin Lee on guitar, Derrick and Keith Lee on vocals and their three nephews; Roosevelt Collier on pedal steel guitar, Alvin Cordy Jr. on bass and Earl Walker on drums. The Lee Boys have a sound rooted in gospel and infused by a powerful mix of musical influences. The song is also aided by keyboard wizard Joseph Wooten.
Victor’s longtime touring band member Anthony "Flex" Wellington is the featured bassist on "Flex," which also includes his thumb solo. The drumming of Derico Watson, guitar playing of Regi Wooten, keyboards of Joseph Wooten and violin of Amir Ali provide the excellent ensemble setting for Wellington to flex his musical muscles. The only non-original composition on the disc is Victor’s remake of Horace Silver’s "Song For My Father." He gives this jazz classic a funky updated twist and both Victor and drummer Derico Watson excel.
"Happy Song" is aptly titled as the joy it exudes is powerfully evident. It’s a showcase of brotherly love and happiness such as that which is demonstrated here is impossible to fake. Victor’s solo is a thing of pure beauty, as well as being a showcase of his technical skills. The final song is "Us 2," a lullaby-smooth lovely song. It features special guest Keb Mo on slide guitar and Victor on slide bass. Its tempo is as unrushed as a lazy flowing river.
To say this release "grows on you" is an understatement. Each listen reveals new previously uncovered treats to enjoy. The diversity is somewhat disconcerting upon the first few listens, but in time enhances the listening experience.