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REVIEW: Victor Wooten Trio at Ronnie Scott’s

Victor Wooten in 2017
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REVIEW: Victor Wooten Trio
(Ronnie Scott’s, 31 October 2018. Third night of three. Review by Sebastian Maniura)

“Music: it’s a language, it’s a lifestyle and it can save the world,” bassist Victor Wooten said in a TED talk in 2013. Clearly, from his performance at Ronnie Scott’s this Wednesday, this is an idea that’s still at the centre of his music. Returning for the third and final night of their residency the Victor Wooten Trio, featuring legendary drummer Dennis Chambers and sax player Bob Franceschini, were greeted by a full house eagerly awaiting what was sure to be a night to remember. Wooten and his trio did not disappoint.

A five-time Grammy award winner and one of Rolling Stone‘s “top ten bassists of all time”, Wooten certainly has the chops to put on a show. It would be easy to wax lyrical about the group’s technical prowess and ability. Indeed, there were many breath-taking moments throughout the evening. Dennis Chambers, renowned for his work with everyone from with Parliament/Funkadelic to Mike Stern, went from incredibly tight grooves on numbers like Funky D and Trypnotyx to impossibly dexterous, metrically modulated solos on tracks such as Liz And Opie and Caught In The Act. Whilst Bob Franceschini, with heavy use of pedals, added more than just his virtuoso lines to the band’s sound, holding down the groove whilst the bass took solos on tracks like Trypnotyx, playing the one on Dc10 and adding colour to the tunes so they never felt sparse. Wooten excelled as both bassist and soloist, locking in with Chambers on numbers such as Caught in the Act and Liz And Opie and then breaking into wild solos exploring all the bass can do, from slap and finger style to chordal and pedal work, on numbers like It’s My Life and Funky D.

However, it wasn’t all dexterous bass solos and devilish time signatures. Both sets were loosely based around the groups 2017 album Trypnotyx, and, as with the album, the evening also focused on one of Wooten’s central passions, spreading love and understanding through music. There was a great openness and joy to the sets which meant nothing ever felt forced, a testament to Wooten’s adept, easy-going showmanship. In the rockier numbers like Dc10 and Funky D, where Wooten would spin his bass around his body and joke with the audience, there were people cheering and getting involved. In the calmer, more stripped back moments such as the bass solo section of A Little Rice And Beans, a medley of solo pieces culminating in Wooten’s famous and moving rendition of Amazing Grace, you could hear a pin drop.

An earlier set from the Charlie Stacey duo, with Yussef Dayes on kit, kicked off the evening enthusiastically. With energetic yet precise playing from Dayes, often morphing from one drum-and-bass fill-laden feel to the next, and Stacey’s admirable work on both bass synth and keys, grooving with Dayes at the same time as taking florid, lyrical solos, the performance felt fresh and exciting. It might seem odd to have had a duo without a bassist opening for one of the world’s leading bass players, however, thanks to the remarkable energy, talent and undeniable connection between the musicians, it worked well as an ice-breaker for the evening. This was made even more impressive by the fact that, as Stacey remarked, a lot of the set was “mostly improvised!”

Whether Wooten and his band were wowing the audience with their technical wizardry or exploring the more introspective aspects of the music, one thing was abundantly clear, one was in the presence of truly masterful entertainers and musicians. Their ability to maintain the high level of intensity and vivacity throughout the two sets was quite something. The emotional engagement in the room was a testament to the trio’s capacity for connecting with the people around them. The evening may well not have saved the world, but it certainly brought joy to all those attending.

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