First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2008, Volume 15, #3
Written by John Metzger
Mon March 31, 2008, 06:00 PM CDT
Victor Wooten is a wonderfully gifted bass player, but he, nonetheless, has struggled to find his niche as a solo artist. Liberated from the confines of his role with the Flecktones, Wooten has set his unused ideas as a performer and a composer in motion, but on occasion, he also has allowed his experimental tendencies get the best of him. In contrast, his 2005 endeavor Soul Circus, which seemed to be geared toward reaching a wider audience, not only felt haphazardly incomplete, but enveloped within the framework of contemporary R&B, it also was constrained too tightly for its own good. It wasn’t adventurous at all; rather, it was simply bland.
Wooten’s latest effort Palmystery is, then, a big improvement over its predecessor. Although it frequently feels as if several different recording sessions have been mashed together, the outing does succeed in finding a comfortable middle ground among his disparate interests. Once again, Wooten has attempted to unite a broad range of styles under a single umbrella. However, where Soul Circus frequently felt forced into a preordained mold, Palmystery remains loose and vibrant.
Nevertheless, Palmystery suffers from a different sort of problem, and while it hardly could be considered a fatal flaw, it does keep the collection from becoming something greater. To put it simply, the variegated textures that Wooten explores — which range from jazz-fusion to funk and from gospel to world music — are so jumbled that they never completely congeal. The transitions aren’t necessarily jarring, but they aren’t always as smooth as they could be. If Wooten simply had chosen to focus upon one style or another to explore — while maintaining his adventurous spirit — the set might have fared even better than it does.
After all, there’s a lot to like about Palmystery. Tracks such as 2 Timers and Happy Song are tailor-made for the Flecktones’ repertoire. In fact, the group’s current saxophonist Jeff Coffin as well as its harmonica playing graduate Howard Levy join Wooten on the former tune. Elsewhere, The Lee Boys’ energetic assault dutifully elevates the Sly Stone-inspired funk of Miss U as Wooten, performing on slide bass, converses freely with steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier.
Like Jaco Pastorius, Wooten has shown a tendency toward delving into cerebral experimentation at the expense of conveying moods and feelings, but throughout Palmystery, he sounds anything but academic. Even the rhythmic layering he applies to 2 Timers as well as the Ornette Coleman-infused double-bass arrangements — such as his wild romp through Horace Silver’s Song for My Father with Steve Bailey and the Middle Eastern-flavored Cambo with Anthony Wellington — are effortless rather than tediously complex. Wooten’s globally minded pursuits are, perhaps, the most interesting selections on the endeavor — I Saw God’s South African vibrations are particularly irresistible — but ultimately Palmystery survives all of its ups and downs simply because he and his collaborators appear to have had an absolutely joyous time making it. ½
Palmystery is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box