NYC: Victor Wooten
Article & Photos By Jarrod Dicker
Highline Ballroom, New York City
June 23, 2010
“It’s always fun playing New York City,” Victor Wooten opined as he flaunted a grin that stretched from ear to ear. “This is where it all happens, right?”
The grateful audience at Highline Ballroom exploded in merriment as Wooten humbly backed away from the microphone.
“I tour a lot and it’s tough when you have four kids at home,” he continued. “My daughter asked me for a Victor Wooten doll this Christmas just so she could see me more often. Today I miss her more than ever.”
In both professional and societal culture, Victor Wooten personifies the term “family man.” The youngest of five musically adept brothers (Regi, Roy, Rudy and Joseph), Wooten’s lineage is undoubtedly consecrated with the proverbial sangre azul ; grouping the family amongst other “musical monarchs” the Neville’s, the Mill’s and the Jackson’s. Dubbed by Victor as “the teacher,” older brother Regi began to coach the youngster in music theory when he was a mere two years old. Thirty-five years and five Grammy awards later, the bassist now stands in front of his “other” family; a crowd of 500 diehard fans at New York City’s Highline Ballroom. This was truly a night that will live in melodic infamy.
Originally constructed in the 1930’s to elevate trains from Manhattan’s city streets, the High Line district is now a 1.45-mile long arrangement that runs through New York’s Meat Packing District, west Chelsea area and Hell’s Kitchen. An intimate venue that accommodates up to 700 concert goers, the Highline Ballroom is something New Yorker’s are accustomed seeing in the resurrected musical borough, Brooklyn-- not on the edge of Manhattan. However this displaced ballroom--with its industrial décor, dim lit setting, and superb sound quality-- has become the new “go to” hub for indie groups, jam bands and affiliated genres alike.
The night began with New York’s Consider the Source, who instantly opened the musical floodgates with vivacious velocity and rhythmic rage. Self described by bassist John Ferrera as the biggest show of their young careers, the trio invaded Highline Ballroom with an arsenal of profound, effects driven timbre that channeled genres of 90’s metal, electronica, alt-rock and Hindustani. The trio, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, visually “spiritually and physically immerse” themselves in their playing seen by spasm driven maneuvering and awkward imbalances while performing on stage. Using this night to exhibit their most optimum original content, CTS bounced from comfortable funk to RPG fantasy to even heavily improvised electronica while still promoting new material (“How Am I Not Myself”) and young classics like the fan favorite, Simpson sampled track, “Old Chopper.”
Consider the Source concluded their abbreviated set (40 minute) and left the stage to allow Wooten’s crew to erect the bands’ preferred arrangement. Sound check came and went and the band began to assemble on stage, however something was very different. Following Victor Wooten was brother and guitarist Regi Wooten, drummer Derico Watson and…Steve Winegard? The crowd gazed in bewilderment as Victor snagged the mic to feed the befuddled minds. “Steve Winegard is stepping in for my brother Joseph who couldn’t make it here tonight. Let’s give a hand for Steve ‘White Chocolate’ Winegard!” This was the first of what would amount to nearly 10 instances where Victor referred to Winegard as “White Chocolate,” offering a jovial injection to an unfortunate Joseph Wooten deficiency.
The show opened with a layered jam session that pleasingly spanned a near ten minutes. The drums rode quietly in back, as Victor’s bass exposed light notes, tickling Watson’s anchoring drum pattern. Regi finger-tapped gently into a crescendo until the entire group came to fruition with an amplified and accelerated funk amalgamation.
Right off the bat, it was obvious that this evening was going to be one of musical dexterity. Wooten is known for his ambiguous on set development, and by way of the first number it seemed obvious that “improvisation” was set to be the key ingredient of this funk filled recipe.
On deck was “Pentagon Square,” a funk stimulated tune played entirely in 5/4. Regi’s ability to massage the entire neck of his instrument and finger tap up and down various scales with ease stood front and center as the jazz quartet accelerated full speed into the night. The group, anchored by Winegard throughout “Pentagon Square,” gazed at Victor in awe throughout. It was obvious that the pianist cherished the situation he was in and the players who bounded him.
What does it mean when the drummer of the band is the one with perfect pitch? This inquiry, asked by Victor, would be answered during the next song, “Don’t Be Deceived” written by drummer Derico Watson. This ten year old gem can be analogous to wine; as it’s audible worth has only proliferated with age. At this point, the once divergent crowd of adults, kids, music aficionados and others finally came together as one sole “spiritual” spectator of the Wooten quartet. Standing side by side, the only difference between each person was the distance their jaw was off the ground.
Nearly one year to the day Michael Jackson passed away, one could have guessed Wooten would eventually perform an interpretive commemoration to the fallen King of Pop. As the lights dimmed dark, Victor approached the mic; “Here’s a song you all might know.” With that, Regi began the signature backing chords of “One More Chance” with Watson checking in to anchor the rhythm section. Victor stepped in on queue and delivered bass lines that elegantly mimicked the young Michael’s voice. The crowd broke into an all out dance, as hippies, hipsters, jazz heads, and funk peeps alike came to a mutual understanding that this was the time to honor the legend. As my eyes closed I was hit with a feeling that could only be attained in such an intense and dynamic musical atmosphere. It soothed me to visually witness the great influence Jackson had across all genres of music and it was further incredible to hear Wooten do the tribute. The song segued gently into “Let’s Dance, Let’s Shout” and until eventually all instruments came to a sudden halt. Victor grabbed the mic and whispered the chorus once again, “Let’s Dance, Let’s Shout” and took a pause. The crowd returned the call by singing the lyrics back to Victor. This continued for four or five bars until Watson interjected with a blistering drum solo that jolted even the laziest of pigeons from the dusted rafters.
Another ad hoc jam ensued with Winegard and Regi Wooten exchanging riffs back and forth in a musically charged battle that left the audience victims of unrestrained *Space* launch . Mediated by Victor, the jam is soon conquered by Watson who decides that now’s his time to show everyone who’s boss. On a night that was unofficially reserved solely for the bassist, Watson took the cake. He delivered a 10 minute drum solo, unloading hammer-strike maneuvers and faster than rabbit rhythms that channeled the rapidity of = Dennis Thompson flowered with the finesse of Buddy Rich. Upon its conclusion, Victor states, “that song was called ‘Left, Right, Center,’ and originally featured three drummers on the album. Derico is doing triple duty.” Damn right he did.
Offering the audience a little taste of White Chocolate, Victor entered a groove he titled on the spot (“New York Five”) and left the stage open for Winegard to experiment with the keys. As the show progressed, Victor played a standalone solo “Aris Eyes” for his aforementioned daughter whom he was missing at home. The emotionally driven bass solo displayed even more elasticity and latitude from the world renowned bassist, tallying yet another fundamental direction the musician could navigate in. Following Victors solo, Regi took center stage and offered a funk medley to ignite emotions from the bottom of the barrel to a well satisfied crowd. He manned his guitar with great finesse, teasing funk classic’s “Jungle Boogie,” “Roller Coaster “and “Get Down.” Slowly easing into an appropriate finale to cap off what had become a fantastic night, the band encored with “Hali Baba,” a song that displays the didactic latitude of the bass player and his very skilled and often underrated supporting cast.
As all good things must come to an end, Wooten stepped off the stage after a successful evening with just a cordial wave and a wide smile. “We love you New York,” he exclaimed before his exit. And we love you, Victor Wooten.