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Bass Virtuoso 

by Clint Burgess and Mike Corrigan


The vast majority of musicians on this great green earth will spend their days toiling in futility. But even a futile struggle can be a rewarding one. Only a handful of the masses making soothing sounds can be music television mainstays, have platinum records or even break onto the national radio airwaves. Fortunately for the masses and for devout fans of Victor Wooten (who performs at the Big Easy next Thursday night), he may never be one of those "rock star" guys.


Victor Wooten is known to his staunch followers as a bassist of legendary proportions. His contributions to the Grammy-winning Bela Fleck and the Flecktones may have put him on the map, but he continues to shatter the traditional expectations of what a bass player is, raising the bar to new heights in his area of expertise. His inspired work and mind-blowing talent are not assessed by his commercial prowess but calculated by the brains he has boggled and the loyal following he has developed.


It all began for Wooten at the ripe age of five. His debut performance with the Wooten Brothers Band provided a solid basis for his practical musical education and later culminated in opening slots for the legendary Curtis Mayfield. Not bad for a 5-year-old kid starting out on the bass. It gets better. By age 8, he was gigging in clubs with his brothers until 2 am -- on school nights. Isn't that a lesson in real life?


As the years passed and Victor progressed, he increased his training and musicianship exponentially. After his adolescence, he headed to Nashville and did a stint with Jonell Mosser. It was after this job in 1989 that Wooten hooked up with the daredevil banjo ace Bela Fleck. Wooten's brother, Future Man, also joined the project that is now known as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. This group propelled Wooten to new heights as an experimentalist. His playing with the Flecktones was nothing short of outstanding. The group's improvisational style and knack for finger-flying fret work is inspired, venturing beyond the traditional boundaries of what is usually done with a banjo. The group carved out a niche for itself as a highly original act with the talent and ability of more than just mere mortals. The bass-playing Wooten ascended to cult hero status and also garnered praise from some of the mainstream music entities. Moving onward and upward from there, Wooten has gone on to appear on numerous Flecktones records and dozens of other albums as a guest performer.


Notoriety and a reputation for shattering the stereotypical ideology that bass players are somehow secondary to music have raised this soul master bass blaster to bigger-than-life proportions. It's no coincidence that he has been compared to the holy one of bass players, Jaco Pastorius. The similarities in virtuoso-type ability are there, but Wooten seems to push beyond the realm of conceivable bass playing. Just a few of the techniques Wooten employs to create his signature sound include tapping, tremolo and looping multi-layered bass lines that are created on the fly and coerced into frenzied and complex compositions. These sounds are affectionately captured on Wooten's last album, the critically acclaimed Yin Yang. The tracks featured on this record are simply exquisite. Even if you're not really into the bass, the dynamics on the songs speak volumes.


With so much on the to-do list for Wooten, it's a wonder that he is currently working on the follow-up to his last studio offering. Among other things, he is involved in numerous side projects, a bass-playing and nature music camp as well as his obligations to his solo career and a demanding Flecktones schedule. Fortunately, he has time for a stop in Spokane and our newly erected music venue. Expect to be dazzled and wowed by one of the premiere bassists in contemporary music.





The Big Easy Wants You -- As I hunt-and-peck these words, construction crews are even now working virtually around the clock to bring on the Big Easy, Spokane's new 1,500-seat concert house/entertainment facility/restaurant/lounge. By the time you read this, in fact, the dust should be more or less settled over there, and the intensive activity in and around the downtown block anchored by the Met Theatre will have, to some extent, subsided. All that will be left is for those of us excited or at least intrigued by the notion of a swanky new state-of-the-art, mid-sized concert venue right in the heart of downtown Spokane (that's you and me, isn't it?) is to stop in and say hello.


We can do that in a number of ways, since the Big Easy already has a rather ambitious live music schedule plotted for the next several months -- a schedule that seems adequately to reflect the diverse tastes of local live music fans.


This week, the venue gets up to speed on Jan. 31 with the heavy, metallic sounds of Sevendust, Ill Nino and Element Eight. The official grand opening (kicking off an entire week of grand opening concerts) will be on Feb. 3 with the never-say-die Southern rock icons, Lynyrd Skynyrd, in what will surely be the most intimate venue setting of the group's current national arena tour. Grand opening week continues with bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten (see previous story) on Feb. 5 and groove band Leftover Salmon on Feb. 9.


The near future at the Big Easy features shows by country legend George Jones (Feb. 10), Led Zeppelin tribute band No Quarter (Feb. 20), butt-rockers Skid Row (Feb. 21), blues great Buddy Guy (Feb. 23), Crystal Method (Feb. 28), Eddie Money (March 5), Liz Phair (March 6), Lil Jon & amp; the East Side Boyz (March 7), Jewel (March 12), Big Head Todd and the Monsters (March 24), Damien Rice (April 1) and Ani DiFranco (April 12).


Wow.





SFCC Jazz Festival -- Much of the world celebrates the beginning of the New Year at the top of January. The Chinese rang in the Year of the Monkey last week. But each year around this time, local jazz aficionados look to the end of January and the annual SFCC Jazz Festival as the high holiday that kicks off their live music year. The festival happens this weekend on the SFCC campus and features two headliners of typically world-class status: trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, who performs with the SFCC Jazz Ensemble and the Big Mumbo Blues band on Friday night, and Latin jazz great and Grammy Award-winning Poncho Sanchez and his band on Saturday night.


Since the early '80s, when he began his recording career, Poncho Sanchez has been widely recognized as one of the most influential musicians in contemporary Latin jazz. Sanchez first showed prodigious musical talent at a very early age, teaching himself guitar, flute and percussion before taking up the congas full-time. The native Californian freely incorporated the sounds and textures he encountered during his formative years of the 1960s -- R & amp;B, funk, pop and soul -- into a more traditional Afro-Cuban matrix.


And his repertoire continues to evolve, making each performance fresh and unpredictable and keeping Sanchez -- along with his eight-piece band -- on the cutting edge.





Publication date: 1/29/04
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