It was legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson who proved that the electric bass guitar needn’t simply follow along with the drums in a generic fortification of the bottom end. With Jamerson began a new mode of bass-guitar thinking that would ultimately place the instrument at center stage in the hands of pop/jazz artists like Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke. By the late ’70s, the electric bassist was no longer a sideman.
Victor Wooten began to learn music in that climate. He learned bass parts as a child on a detuned electric guitar and performed in bands with his older brothers before he was a teen. But it was years later as a member of the Flecktones that he found his groove. Hired by the avant banjo player Béla Fleck, the Flecktones’ free-form jazz-meets-bluegrass footprint unleashed Wooten’s development as an eclectic artist.
Wooten’s skills are such that he has been compared to the much-vaunted Jaco Pastorius, but I have trouble with that. I always thought that Jaco, while gifted, was playing way over his head during his time with Weather Report and that he courted a self-indulgent style. Wooten’s style, on the other hand, is a grounded musical dialogue. Wooten releases energy from within the tonalities of his instrument by decorating complex ideas with unexpected triplets or thunderous slaps and pops to remind us that this is, after all, bass guitar. “Classical Thump” is his “Crossroads,” a four-string tour de force that is reminiscent of the arpeggios inside Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” But no matter the wild raveups, a bassist must always return to traditional service as the wheels of his band. That Wooten can cover both sides simultaneously is his genius.
VICTOR WOOTEN, Belly Up, Sunday, April 27, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $25.