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Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten: A Monumental Performance by Two Bass Gods at the State Theatre

Posted by Alexandra Voigt on 03/28 at 11:25 AM

“Wow. That’s all I have to say…wow.”

This pretty much sums up every snippet of conversation and chitchat in the women’s bathroom, last Tuesday night, directly following Victor Wooten’s performance. And, I must admit, “wow” is the only word, among “whoa” and “oh my god,” that could occasionally escape my seemingly frozen mouth, jaw blatantly dropped, hanging open.

Now, I knew of Victor Wooten’s amazing talent from word of my voice teacher, but this talent is something unique to be treasured, something to be shared for others to witness.

The State Theatre hosted a near-sold out show for two bass legends and their accompaniment: The Victor Wooten Band and The Stanley Clarke Band. Practically all of the 571 available seats were occupied, and all eyes were taking in the four musicians on stage. Playing with Victor were two of his older brothers and Derico Watson. Regi Wooten, a.k.a “Mr. Teacher” as Victor says, grooves on the electric guitar and Joseph Wooten flickers his fingers up and down the keyboard in a stellar fashion. Joseph, a collaborator in writing some of the band’s songs, is also the keyboardist of 17 years for The Steve Miller Band. Watson played the drums and, as Victor pointed out to all drummers in the audience, Watson only uses one kick drum.

In between playing his electric bass guitar, Victor cracked several jokes in and out of song. “I’m feeling pretty good because I get to stand on the same stage as the great Stanley Clarke.” A slight pause, the audience rightfully agrees, and then Victor jokingly adds, “and you don’t.” The audience laughed and the band moved into the uplifting, storytelling song, “I saw God the other day,” catchy enough to chant all day and to reminisce Victor’s poppin’ bass solo thrown in the middle.

The insurmountable talent that these musicians possess continued throughout their set. Regi broke out into a crazy fast jam that briefly morphs into 1960s blues classic “Mustang Sally” until Regi looks up and laughs, “just kidding.” Progressing into their own mashed-up covers of The Ohio Players’ “Rollercoaster” and Jackson 5’s “I want you back,” Victor yelled, “can we make it funky just a little bit?” I, having to refrain from shouting a “hell yeah!,” am obviously the overly excited student hanging off her seat, surrounded by an experienced, primarily middle-aged crowd. Yet, each band member is noticeably ready to get the packed theatre ‘a movin’ as Regi and Victor throw in a spontaneous synchronized side-step dance number.

Victor made playing look unbelievably easy—hands are plucking, slapping and jumping all over the neck of his bass—sometimes each hand in opposite directions. His fingers were in such constant, rapid motion that the actual sound of the bass’s notes leaving the amplifiers is delayed several milliseconds before it reaches our ears.

During his performance, Victor mentioned his mother asking him, ‘how will a bass player help the world?’ And so began Victor’s audio book, “The Music Lesson,” which chronicles Victor’s own spiritual search for growth through music in hopes of inspiring others. Breaking from Victor’s mind-boggling playing, Joseph played a keyboard solo so soulful and smooth, the rhythm flows like a ribbon. Yet, his solo then makes a turn and torches our ears, emanating a fierce, electric embodied sound.

Following the soothing song, “The Lesson” and the heavy and hypnotic “Holly Baba,” Joseph led the three into Kool & the Gang’s funky “Ladies Night.” This last jam signified the end of the set and Victor counted down from 11 his last time, prepping the audience for the final bang. Everyone then rose for a well-deserved standing ovation, smiles visible for miles.

*30 minute Intermission*

As if trying to define Victor Wooten’s musical talent wasn’t impossible enough, Stanley Clarke has another generation of finesse and expertise added on. A legend and king of jazz-fusion music, Clarke has been a reputable bassist since the 1970s. He’s too brilliant to reiterate in words.

Within seconds I was literally mystified by Clarke’s limitless talent on the upright bass. His fingers, easily as swift as the drummer’s tenacious velocity, were only just warming up. Ruslan Sirota, the extraordinary, energetic keyboardist and pianist from Ukraine, captured his audience’s eye instantly with his intriguing facial expressions and his ferocious playing.

Shifting into a new groove, Clarke told us he is more an “instrumentalist rather than a lyricist.” However, some years ago, his teenage daughter experienced a breakup and he decided to write a song for her. He called it, “Here’s why tears dry: because they evaporate.” Hauntingly good and unmistakably groovy, Clarke’s daughter’s break-up song was melodious and similar to that of an emotional soap opera tune—purposely comical and compelling.

As Clarke delved into a solo on his upright bass, the notes sounded like the pitter-pattering of crab’s legs climbing up and down the spine of the instrument—a tone both mellow and bold. This is the definition of slappin’ a bass. His eyes were constantly shut, with a whole-body emotion thrust into playing the entire mass of the large instrument. Clarke is nearing the age of 60 and is a beaming sight to see.

Enamored with John Coltrane, Clarke said he wrote a song in 1974 called, “Song of John” and so decided to share the remarkable tune for us. The upright bass sounded like rain alongside drummer, Ronald Bruner, Jr.’s dancing cymbals and hi-hats. Throughout the song, the energy peaked at a record high: Clarke’s hands and arms moved in complete circles over his upright, and simultaneously he and Sirota throw funny faces at each other during the intensity.

Sirota’s style of playing keyboard was beyond entertaining. All night, and especially during his solos, his mouth was constantly open in awe, as if laughing at the wonderful music; eyes also completely closed. I’m positive my mouth is just as wide as his.

Stanley Clarke’s usual jazz pianist, Hiromi, was not present for the evening, but this did not burden any of the musicians.

There is one aspect of the Stanley Clarke Band performance, however, that I just cannot grasp. The electric guitar player showed very little emotion throughout the set, that it almost seemed like he did not wish to be there. You must imagine how weird that sounds; it’s still baffling to me! The man was a fantastic guitarist, playing beautiful, emotional measures during his solos, but his face was expressionless. Perhaps it was nerves?

The rich sounding jazz song, “School Days” was on next. Clarke was now on his electric bass guitar—seemingly easier for him to shred on, indicating more bewilderment on its way. Bruner Jr. and Clarke battled each other on their instruments: Bruner Jr. whipping out eclectic, meticulous beats and sounds with the drum set and Clarke slappin’ a new rhythm every ten seconds on his bass.

Reeling in the night, Clarke finished up and switches to his upright bass, concluding a phenomenal concert. Following suit, we all stand to celebrate history’s finest.

{name} Author: Alexandra Voigt
Bio: [Alex] is currently a senior double majoring in Print Journalism and International Studies with a double minor in Music Technology and French. As random as all that may seem, Alex’s true passion lies within the art of music and the countless characteristics of rock and roll. Growing up to everything classic rock, she indulges in Led Zeppelin, The Doors, CCR, The Animals, Neil Young up through 90s grunge and today’s indie/folk rock and electro beats like: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Spoon, The Black Keys, TV on the Radio and Bassnectar!, (don’t turn away, that is only a taste of the list). Alex also loves using music programs like Logic Pro to mix, modulate and place different effects on songs, which is why electronic/techno and dubstep play an essential factor in her everyday life.

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