Victor Wooten is a shaman.
Arguably the world’s most revered bassist, and now also renowned as an author and holistic instructor, the inherently spiritual Wooten fulfills the lofty label in that he acts as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds.
As such, “Victor and the Vicars” would be a fitting name for the band that the whimsical wordsmith led to the stage before a near-full house Saturday night in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center. The group was joined by the Jimmy Herring Band as part of the college’s annual Great Performers Series.
Frankly, considering Wooten’s joyful, otherworldly ability on the bass, he could easily assemble a band to simply back him as he wowed the crowd at will – but it is not the shaman’s nature to stand alone. Instead, Wooten stood alongside a sextet that included three fellow bassists – all accomplished educators who at times performed on other instruments, but often all together – in offering a convincing case for the bass as having a higher calling than simply the low-line rhythm guide.
Opening the evening was the wordless workhorse Herring and his trio (Matt Slocum, keys; Neal Fountain, bass; Jeff Sipe, drums). They ripped through an hour-plus set of instrumental prowess, a mostly eyes-closed endeavor that saw Herring sharing the spotlight starting with an organ-fueled riff-funk opener, wailing to the rock gods in Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” going to church with a slow-building lyrical sermon followed by the full moon fever of “Rainbow” and covering the Beatles twice with “A Day in the Life” and a closing “Within You Without You.”
Taking the stage to a tone-setting series of recorded mantras such as, “You must levitate to elevate,” Wooten and friends opened with the steady drive of “A Woman’s Strength,” a highlight from the latter, lyrical side of his recent double-album, “Sword and Stone/Words and Tones.” Performing on cello, Wooten immediately put the spotlight on show-stealing singer Krystal Peterson, who co-wrote the song and sang it with aplomb as recently named Berkeley School of Music Bass Department Chairman Steve Bailey harmonized on bass above her vocals.
“Brooklyn” beckoned all four bassists to the upper registers as Anthony Wellington strummed rhythm beneath three-layered riffs, before Bailey and Dave Welsch took to trombone and trumpet, respectively, eventually segueing into one of the baddest bass lines of them all in the Stevie Wonder-written Rufus and Chaka Khan hit “Tell Me Something Good,” then back into “Brooklyn” and brought home by a boisterous solo from drummer Derico Watson, who was flanked onstage by another drummer in Kelly Gravely.
Wooten’s random whims in “My Life” and the mimelike motions between bandmates showed the sense of fun he’s always fit into his performances.
Closing with a solemn “Heaven” that Wooten dedicated to his just-passed uncle and giving way to an all-hands encore joined by Herring and mates of “Miss U” that teased Sly & the Family Stone’s “(You Caught Me) Smilin’,” smiles abounded onstage and in the crowd that had been roused to a standing ovation for a performance that was overjoyed, over loved and over too soon.
Victor Wooten and His Band
Part of the Great Performer Series Saturday night in the Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College.