Grammy Award-winning bassist Victor Wooten often moonlights as an author or a music teacher, but his true passion lies in working as a versatile musician.
“You can’t just approach music from your instrument,” he said. “You have to go beyond that and approach music as a whole. You have to have the courage to do it.”
In the music world, Wooten is heralded as one of the bass guitar greats of modern times.
Those in the jam band scene probably know Wooten best as a member of the long-running jazz/bluegrass combo Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
Wooten’s technique is amazing, but his wide-open approach to writing and playing a range of styles has led him through one wild musical adventure after another.
Most recently, Wooten worked up a batch of new compositions and arrangements for an unusual double-release on his own label, Vix Records.
The two albums are sister collections.
The playful, bass solo-heavy “Sword and Stone” features instrumental versions of Wooten’s latest set of tunes, while “Words and Tones” features lyrical versions of the songs with performances by vocalists Saundra Williams, Divinity Roxx and Me’Shell Ndegeocello.
“The idea started years ago when I was doing records for other labels,” Wooten said. “I’d done two double albums before and even a triple CD with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but I wanted to do something really different here.”
As Wooten worked out material for “Words and Tones,” he was inspired to expand on the songs with instrumental renditions on “Sword and Stone.”
He initially planned to release two separate albums on two different record labels on the same day, but decided to follow through on his plans through Vix, which released both discs on Sept. 25.
Reaction to the new music has been positive, but old-school fans and critics seem to prefer the jazzy complexities and festive, funky feel of “Sword and Stone” to the smooth-jazz/world-music elements of “Words and Tones.”
“I’m totally open to all criticism and I accept all of it,” Wooten said. “Once it’s out of my hands and out there. I understand that people gravitate toward what they grew up with. However people first come to know an artist is usually what they want that artist to continue to do. People are used to me playing instrumental music with a lot of fiery bass. ... But I’m bigger than one style. Music is bigger than one style.”
Wooten’s current ensemble features drummer Derico Watson, bassist Anthony Wellington, bassist/keyboardist/trombonist Steve Bailey, bassist/trumpeter Dave Welsch and vocalists Krystal Peterson and Kelly Gravely. Wooten will have a chance to showcase much of the music on the two new albums this month during a three-week tour in which he and his band share the bill with veteran guitarist Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic. Herring’s backing combo includes drummer Jeff Sipe, bassist Neal Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum.
“I’ve known Jimmy for many years, ever since he was playing with Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit,” Wooten said. “When I heard him with that band, I instantly became a fan.”
Between the sophisticated prog/fusion elements of Herring’s set and the jazz/funk jams of Wooten’s repertoire, there’ll be plenty of musical common ground at the double-bill show Thursday at the Charleston Music Hall.
“We’re doing some new things on this tour,” Wooten said. “We’ll have seven people on stage, and we’ll pull from different versions of each song, with vocals or with horns. Most of the musicians are playing three or four instruments, so it’s so much fun. Both groups of fans will get more of a show and a wider variety of music. And it always makes it more fun for the music because we get inspired every night hearing each other.”