Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jazz Tracks #2: Superstar Bassists Unite for S.M.V.

The biggest news in the bass world at the moment is the new album and tour by S.M.V., a band uniting superstar bassist Stanley Clarke (Return to Forever) with Marcus Miller (Miles Davis) and Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones). The trio's debut, appropriately titled Thunder, was released Aug. 12.

I spoke with Wooten recently, for a feature published today in Las Vegas City Life. Click here to go to the story, or read it below.

Here's a YouTube clip of the band. And here's Chris Jisi's story on the band in Bass Player mag.

Low end theory
Victor Wooten, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller celebrate the bass guitar on album, tour


BASS players don't get much respect, generally speaking. So S.M.V. -- a band uniting Stanley Clarke of legendary fusion band Return to Forever with jazz-funk player and producer Marcus Miller and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones virtuoso Victor Wooten -- constitutes a wet dream for bassists, a rare opportunity to hear three bottom-end superstars in action, simultaneously. The three played together for the first time two years ago, at a New York show sponsored by Bass Player magazine. Clarke, 57, later joined his younger counterparts for a CD, titled Thunder, released Aug. 12.

Now, making the fantasy complete, comes the tour, with the trio joined on stage only by a drummer and keyboardist. For these shows, Clarke will double on electric and upright bass, and Miller, 49, will also play alto saxophone and bass clarinet. The question: If you build a dream show for bass players, will anyone else come?

"The interest was mostly from bass players at first, but Marcus and Stanley have both ventured way outside of projects oriented toward bass players," Wooten, 43, says from a tour stop in Toronto. "There are people who know Marcus from his Miles Davis or his Luther Vandross days, or from doing some TV scoring or the Saturday Night Live band. So his audience is pretty broad. I've been fortunate enough to open for the Grateful Dead. Hopefully, when the three of us come together, it's big news."

The musical scope, too, is anything but narrow. "You're gonna here some classical stuff, some symphony things," says Wooten. "There's musical virtuosity, and some simple things that are just musical. We wanted to make a record that someone can listen to three times over and not be bored. We've always tried to do that with the Flecktones, and with my own (solo) records."

Thunder -- while likely filed under jazz, smooth jazz or fusion, and already picking up airplay on radio stations airing one or more of those genres -- offers an appealing mix of styles. The disc features several pieces directly referencing the players' past work: Miller wrote (and produced) the rising-and-falling "Tutu" for the 1986 Miles Davis album of the same name, while Clarke's "Lopsy Lu/Silly Putty" conjoins a tune from his 1974 solo debut with its 1975 successor, and Wooten's "Hillbillies on a Quiet Afternoon" is a reworking of a piece from Clarke's 1979 live "I Wanna Play For You." The title track is a slow funk-rock stomper, while "Los Tres Hermanos" sports a Spanish-tinged melody and "Classical Thump" is a thumb-popping jam with Miller and Wooten.

Wooten, part of the Flecktones since it was founded nearly 20 years ago, and like his current bandmates, is a solo artist in his own right. Palmystery, his sixth solo album, was released earlier this year; simultaneously, his first novel, The Music Lesson, was published. As a young bassist, he was inspired by the playing of Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham and, in particular, Clarke. "I don't remember any bass player playing with that kind of fire, just attacking the bass," he says. "When Return to Forever came out, it was something totally new that was right down my alley. It was after Stanley that I realized who Marcus was."

In concert, each of the bassists in S.M.V gets his own solo section. But the three mostly play together for the entire show, variously slapping and finger-picking melody lines, dropping in chordal colorings and ripping out speedy fretboard runs. It works well because of the musicians' complementary mix of textures, tones and styles, Wooten says. "People know Stanley for what he does a lot of times up in the higher upper range, with his tenor bass or piccolo bass. Marcus is fat and on the bottom usually. My sound is kind of patterned a little after both of them, from growing and listening to both of them, and it fits somewhere in between."

No comments: