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Victor Wooten: Yin-Yang

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Admittedly, what Victor Wooten can do goes well beyond conventional limits of the bass. In fact, in some cases, it has nothing to do with the bass at all. In his eagerness to “sing” melodies on his 4-string electric bass, the extraordinary bassman from Bela Fleck & The Flecktones becomes a saxophonist, a pianist, a guitarist. Stanley Clarke, Alphonso Johnson and Jaco Pastorius pioneered this territory and John Patitucci took it a step further by developing uncannily fluid chops on the 6-string electric bass.

Wooten is a chops monster himself and he certainly gets to strut his stuff on this two-CD set (one instrumental, one vocal). But while he can play the hell out of the bass (check the sheer burn on “Hip Bop” and the ultra-funky “What Crime Is It?” featuring special guest vocalist Bootsy Collins) he seems to have a bigger agenda that transcends his instrument. Wooten is in love with melodies, and it shows. He gushes shamelessly on smooth numbers like “Urban Turban,” “Resolution” and “Joe’s Journey,” a paean to a fallen friend. He revisits Flecktones country on “Zenergy,” featuring a guest spot by Bela on banjo, and ‘sings’ lyrically on “Sacred Place.”

The natural progression of Wooten’s vocal approach to the bass is to actually sing himself, which he does in convincing fashion on the pop-flavored second CD, revealing a particular fondness for Roger Troutman & Zapp (“Hormones in the Headphones”), Prince (“Yinin’ & Yangin’,” “Singing My Song”) and Morris Day & The Time (“Pretty Little Lady”).

One clever track is “Kaila Speaks,” in which Wooten records the musical warblings of his 13-month-old daughter, then transcribes the natural pitches of her rap and scores music behind it. It’s a neat trick, one that guitarist Steve Vai also pulled off with his infant son on a tune he called “Goo-Goo-Gak.” But Wooten’s tender rendition is especially poignant. Kaila reprises her star turn as a seasoned 16-month-old on “Kaila Raps.”

Victor is reunited on this project with his talented brothers Regi on guitar, Joseph on keyboards and Rudy on sax, who along with drummer brother Roy (a.k.a. Future Man) made up the pre-Flecktones band, The Wootens. They all contribute mightily on this homecoming that traverses world music, funk, smooth jazz, bebop, pop, bluegrass and beyond.