Victor Wooten, the endlessly inventive bass ace best known as a member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, continues to create music that never sounds quite like anything else he’s done.
Victor Wooten, the endlessly inventive bass ace best known as a member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, must feel the same nagging, restless creative instinct common to musicians of his caliber.
That’s one way to explain why none of his projects ever sound quite like anything else he’s done, even with his head-exploding virtuosity at the center of each and his generous grasp of funk, jazz, soul and R&B never too far off the path.
Still, Wooten’s latest CD is yet another step outside the box. For starters, it’s actually two CDs: “Words & Tones,” which offers 13 tracks that each feature a female vocalist – everyone from Dap Kings associate Saundra Williams to Beyonce cohort Divinity Roxx to Me’shell Ndegeocello to Wooten’s own children – and “Sword & Stone” an all-instrumental collection of those same songs, with different arrangements, solos and personnel.
“I always want my next project to be different than the last, and the ones from before,” Wooten said in a recent interview. “What I do comfortably is put together melodies to send to vocalists, and I did want to do a record that featured female vocalists. But when I was creating these melodies, without lyrics, it also entered my mind that it’d be cool to release both versions, and get a lot of my friends to play on these changing arrangements of the songs. I like playing music that’s fluid, and not static. My shows are like that.”
Wooten is on a full-length tour focused on his new material but also dipping into his extensive solo catalog. Along for the ride are longtime Wooten associates like J.D. Blair, Derico Watson, Anthony Wellington, Steve Bailey and Dave Welsch, all of whom play on the CDs, and, along with Wooten in the live setting, will each play multiple instruments, from electric and acoustic basses to drums, trombones, cellos, percussion and keyboards.
“I wanted to see if we could pull this off: do shows where we all play different instruments, and have two drummers – you know how powerful that can be – and see if it can all come together,” Wooten said. “Life is boring without a little danger. I seize those moments where we can all push a little harder and dig a little deeper, and we grow because of it.”
Wooten is particularly excited about Krystal Peterson, a young vocalist from Cincinnati who is the featured singer on his tour and also sings on two “Words & Tones” tracks.
Peterson gained some recognition as a young up-and-comer thanks to her participation on the soundtrack to Disney’s "The Princess Diaries" and as an opening act for the Backstreet Boys during their 2001 Black & Blue tour, but later dropped out of the music industry, disillusioned, Wooten said.
Wooten and Peterson, ne Krystal Harris, met eight years ago, he said, when he caught Peterson performing in a Christmas-themed show in Nashville. He was so impressed with her singing that the two started talking and Wooten eventually had her come to his house to record Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” The two have been friends since.
“She had some bad experiences and wasn’t sure she’d get back into the business,” Wooten said. “But I was needing someone like her and the stars aligned perfectly.”
Wooten came from a hugely musical family – all of his four brothers, including the Flecktones’ Roy “Futureman” Wooten, are musicians – and naturally, his own nuclear family is the same way. Wooten’s wife, Holly, is an acclaimed singer, and several of his four children – Kaila, Adam, Arianna and Cameron, ages 8 to 14 – do everything from musical theater to playing gigs in local bars.
“You’re better off in life if you’re musical in some way,” said Wooten. “My kids don’t have to grow up to be professional musicians, I’m not concerned with that. I just want music in their lives. We presented the opportunity to them, and they seized it – since they were babies, I’ve been teaching them pitches. But I’m like my parents were: I’m more concerned with who they are as people. I have four good kids.”
Wooten is still best known for his association with the Flecktones, and the past year was a particularly exciting one for longtime fans of the group.
In 2010, Jeff Coffin, the fiery saxophonist and flute player, left the band after 14 years after an invitation to officially join longtime Flecktones pals the Dave Matthews Band. So the Flecktones retrenched a bit and ending up bringing back Howard Levy, the harmonica and keyboard virtuoso who was a founding Flecktone and had played with the group in the late 80s and early 90s. The Levy-bolstered group released last year’s well-received “Rocket Science,” and according to Wooten, agreed to put in a year of touring as “Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones.”
“It wasn’t like a reunion band that has to exist on old songs. We came in and did something totally new,” he said. “It was like a family reunion except that everyone has grown, and gotten better. We all had a blast.”
Wooten said the Flecktones have no plans to tour again soon and that it may be several years before they’re together again. He’s quick to point out that there’s no conflict fueling that decision; for a band with the longevity of the 24-year-old Flecktones, extended breaks are healthy.
“We all committed a year to this record, and that started last May and ended in April, so it’s time to take a little break from that,” Wooten said. “I’m 47 now, so in about two and a half years, I’ll be 50, and that was my deadline for saying, I’m going to take a couple of years off. I want to stay at home for a while: my kids deserve it, my wife deserves it, I want to be around before my oldest goes off to college. So these next two years before I do that, I want to build my own thing.”
Evolution has always been a Flecktones hallmark, Wooten added.
“We never got stagnant,” he said. “We toured with different guests initially after Howard left. Then Jeff joined the band, and later he got a bigger gig with Dave Matthews and that left us a little bit in limbo, so Howard agreed to come back for a year. The band is still growing, we just don’t know what it’s going to be next.”