Victor Wooten is known and beloved in circles throughout the music world. He's won multiple Grammys while leaving his imprint on projects throughout the American rock and jazz scenes. As a founding member of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Wooten has had a visible platform from which to jump to solo works, music camps and the world of books.
In many senses, he's a phenom — and a marvel to watch.
Wooten's latest album, TRYPNOTYX, sees him working a new trio with drummer Dennis Chambers and saxophonist Bob Franceschini. The trio comes to Beachland Ballroom on Nov. 4.
"It was just a dream to be able to work with these two musicians," he tells Scene. "I knew it would be really special if we did it as a trio, you know, drums, sax and bass without adding a fourth instrument for chords or anything like that. If we could pull it off, just the three of us, it was going to turn some heads and be more special — and less normal. And I knew we could do it."
The guys booked some shows and started finding their groove. (Watch the Knicks halftime show video below to get a sense of their style.) As 2017 buzzed along, they had to write songs and arc themselves toward the studio.
Without leaning on chords, Wooten says, the band is free to explore in an almost improvisational method of songwriting. The tunes that ended up on TRYPNOTYX were the result of inspiration from a variety of sources.
"The band is more than just a jazz band," Wooten says. "You'll get a few things where Dennis can swing, I can walk the bass line, you know, you'll hear some of that. But it also gets funky. You'll hear some rock. You'll hear some mellow, sweet stuff. It goes in lot of different places, and I knew this band had that capability. We knew we didn't want to just go in one direction, and we knew we wanted to capture as much as we could on record."
Listeners will indeed find it all on TRYPNOTYX: "Funky D" brings its namesake in droves, and Franceschini soars across the song's almost boundless energy. (His sax sounds like a human voice at some points.) Then you've got stuff like "A Soul Full of Ballad," which sees Wooten himself taking center stage and painting a bucolic scene with a mournful lead on bass.
One of the neat tricks behind this album is that the trio made sure they could take everything they captured and replicate it onstage during their tour. There's a sense of preservation there, which is key to how Wooten has always intended to communicate his music to listeners. His is a holistic approach to the craft.
"When we get together to play, something new is going to come out," he says. "It's the same way: If we started this interview over and you asked the same questions, it would come out in a new way. And in doing it again, you'll then come up with new questions. Music is that organic. Every time we play we get new ideas. Harder than writing a song is not losing ideas."
And the live show will indeed echo those ideas: Setlists vary, improvisation takes root, and audiences should expect certain surprises from night to night.
It's that sort of ethos that has driven Wooten's career, including the creation of Victor Wooten's Center for Music and Nature. Now in its 18th season, the music education camp has attracted hundreds of students to the banks of the Duck River in Tennessee.
"It allows me, I think, the best opportunity for me to share with other people — people from around the world, all instruments and different ages," Wooten says. "It's a place, 150 acres, where we set it up how we want it ... to reach as many people as possible. We're seeing musicians go on to wonderful things. But it's also a way for me to grow, because I can bring in teachers that I want to learn from."
And Wooten's influence, in turn, continues to spread across the musical world. He's now recording a metal album with Nitro. ("I'm having a blast getting to go crazy in that direction," he says.) He's also looking toward an acoustic bass jazz record in the future. And, on the day that we spoke, Wooten was about to board a plane to Buffalo, where he would play a bass concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.