October 2005

Victor Wooten's Soul Circus
October 16, 2005The Opera HouseToronto
It’s a Family Affair
by Roger Humbert
Victor Lemonte Wooten is a virtuoso of the electric bass. His mastery of fingering techniques, his astonishing speed and expert use of electronics have earned him two Nashville Music Awards for Bassist of the Year, and he is the only three-time winner of Bass Player magazine’s Bass Player of the Year.

Victor’s professional debut came at the age of five when he performed with the Wooten Brothers Band. As an original member of Béla Fleck’s Flecktones, Victor helped that band earn a Grammy award. Victor is now focusing on his solo career, and has taken his new CD, Soul Circus, on a world tour. The Opera House is where ‘Victa’ pitched his Soul Circus tent in Toronto.

Fans started taking position up against the stage when the club’s doors opened at 7 p.m. Well before the show got under way, the standing-room-only main floor and the balconies were filled to capacity.

9 p.m. — the lights are dimmed. A short film is screened; It investigates the claim that Victor possesses several sets of arms. We see that, although there is contention among his fans over the exact number of retractable limbs, the consensus is: Victa is an eight-armed Funktopus.

The Soul Circus
Darkness falls. Drum beat. An orchestrated dazzle of lights reveals the Soul Circus cast. They are beating compelling rhythms on a battery of drums — heralding their leader. White beams of light converge on a platform at center stage, and... “Here Eeez! — playing bass without a net — Victa dah Tricksta!”.

Victor has descended to stage level and is flanked by two of his brothers — Regi on guitar and Joseph on keyboards. They are backed by Anthony Wellington (Bass, Vocals), Derico Watson (drums), MC Divine (vocals and bass) and Saundra Williams (vocals). Victor leads us on a musical journey that has the splash, dash and flash of Rock and Soul with the virtuosity and spirit of exploration of the best Jazz artists

They start playing “Victa”, a pure Soul song: Victa sings “My name is… I ain’t gonna say it”. Next we hear “Bass Tribute” where Victor pays homage to great thumpers past and present (people like Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, Larry Graham and Bootsy Collins). The show unfolds — Tempos ebb and flow. Prancing, swaying and dancing, the performers groove and strut the stage — pulsing spotlight patterns punctuating their movement.

The band members each take a turn and perform their high-flying acts in the centre of this ring of lights. We all listen, in rapt silence, to Saundra Williams’ soulful interpretation of “Summertime”. Saundra stirs that silence with her take on “Ain’t no sunshine when (s)he’s gone”. Regi Wooten amazes us with his guitar acrobatics and creative playing — (of note: around the neck of his guitar are three sliding stretchable bands that he used to great effect).

Near the two-hour mark I realize that the band has been unobtrusively thinning out. The last Circus members slowly exit. Victor Lemonte Wooten is left alone on stage.

left to right – front: Regi and Victor Wooten
back: Derico Watson and Saundra Williams

MC Divine
Now Victor plays for us. While at times the tempo swells under his funky thumb, Victor mostly plays quiet, meandering and contemplative music. Somehow we find ourselves in a lovely “Norwegian Wood” where Victor does some wonderful finger-picking; later he leads us into absorbing layers of electronic loops.

He is drawing the curtain down ever so gently. With his band, Victor has taken this audience through realms of high-octane swirls; now, he is playing “Amazing Grace” — all is quiet and peaceful. While he explores this gospel’s harmonic changes we arrive at “Lay My Burden Down” — the audience offers its support, clapping in time. Eventually Victor closes the circle and we are back — “Amazing Grace”.

Nearly thirty minutes have passed — Victor plays on, reluctant to quit doing what he loves. In a little while he will stop and receive a rousing ovation.

Victor Lemonte Wooten is introducing a new generation of listeners to the world of Jazz.

What an introduction!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Roger Humbert
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