Bass Extremes at the Dakota
Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
When asked who my all-around favorite musician is, I can easily reply without hesitation – Victor Wooten. What he’s accomplished as a bass player is reason enough to support my opinion, but there’s so much more to discover and appreciate about this extraordinary artist. The interesting story about how he was “born into a band” gives some insight into why his unique perspective on learning to play an instrument has been a game changer for the many musicians that have sought out his methods through books, clinics, and his one-of-a-kind Music & Nature camps. (see link to his official bio below)
Wooten’s tireless dedication to performing live has developed him into an exceptional entertainer, capable of going well beyond the boundaries of what most would expect from modern music. He expressed to fans at the Dakota on March 2nd (the first of a 2-night run), “I like to change it up. Every time I come it’s gonna be different.” In this case, he was referring to a particularly unorthodox trio also featuring Steve Bailey (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums) called BASS EXTREMES, a concept the three first explored back in 1991.
With the current expected role of a bass being to hold a band together in rhythm, harmony and groove, the thought of stretching this instrument to also deliver a melody line in place of a piano, guitar, horn or voice seems almost unthinkable. Put this task in the incredibly capable hands of Bailey, who currently heads up the bass department at Berkley College of Music, and Wooten, who also is listed as a Performance Scholar in Residence there and think again. As it turned out, I only needed to get partway through the first song to get a sense that these extraordinary players not only could pull this off but were able to deliver a very complete musical experience with enough variety and wow factor to keep the audience entertained and engaged the whole way through.
The set included songs from their two studio albums, some cover tunes and a generous helping of clever banter between the three. Bailey’s monstrous 6-string fretless was a good tool for chords and melody on songs like the Cookbook album’s “Not at 3”. Wooten leaned in more on groove and solo lines throughout the performance with his usual custom 4-string Fodera. They received plenty of crowd reaction when occasionally sneaking a well-known progression such as “Stairway to Heaven” in the middle of a tune like they did during “Cool Groove”. Bissonette was essential to the overall feel and spent the majority of the show establishing pocket until “Tropical Storm” from “Just Add Water”, where he had plenty of room to embellish and was also able to work in an attention-grabbing drum solo. Wooten saved his spotlight moment for late in the set where he masterfully built an elaborate loop that he ultimately used as a launching point for a solo section that stole the show.
One final expression of audience enthusiasm was rewarded with an encore performance of “Come Together” (The Beatles) featuring Bissonette on vocals.