Practice makes funky, and soulful; even jazzy. Another truth about the Wooten Brothers on Sunday at The Egg: bad weather; good show.
The four Nashville-based siblings have played together since their ages were single-digits — Joseph turned 52 on Sunday — and a big part of their playing time has been together. Despite jobs in other bands, playing together is a homecoming for them. Whenever Bela Fleck’s Flecktones go on hiatus, bassist Victor rounds up his brothers and hits the road. While the great drummer JD Blair is often on Victor’s gigs, Sunday’s show featured brother and Flecktones bandmate Roy “Futureman” plus keyboardist Joseph (of the Steve Miller Band) and guitarist Regi — the eldest, revered as “the teacher.”
The Wootens could teach most other funk bands what to do.
They started and ended, more or less, with Sly and the Family Stone, introducing themselves in “Dance to the Music.” Joseph led early, but Victor impatiently quick-changed from “Jungle Boogie” into a Joseph vocal showcase on “If You Want Me to Stay” that blurred into “Everyday People” and “Stand.”
When they revisited their (unsuccessful, they noted) 1980s album, it wasn’t nostalgic: they wanted their songs to be heard. Most were Joseph’s, so he sang them on Sunday. Victor spun around, his bass staying where it was, in a Joseph song based on “Carole of the Bells,” and he otherwise resorted to flashy tricks only rarely. Mostly he and his brothers served their songs. Joseph’s followed soul and R&B templates, the Flecktones’ tunes Victor led later had bristly time signatures and chords, Regi showed off the most advanced techniques this side of Victor, while seeing Roy play conventional drums instead of the keyboard-like drumitar was a delight. Well, sort of conventional: His kickdrum was mounted vertically so his pedal work was clearly visible; hyperactive and impressive.
Everybody got star-time. Joseph led “Sex Machine,” specifying more and more delayed unison blasts the band had to count and hit accurately, and never missed. Regi sang “I’m Just a Country Boy at Heart,” recalling how playing in different bands at Busch Gardens taught them versatility: Victor soloed on fiddle.
Roy’s solo began with bare hands but morphed into accompaniment for Victor playing acoustic bass in a Coltrane tribute. Regi started a solo with Hendrix and wound up with Jimmy Page, via West Africa, and Mars.
They challenged each other often, and might have enjoyed themselves nearly as much playing without an audience. No, that’s wrong: They loved how the crowd (half-filling The Egg’s larger Hart Theater) responded to tricks and tunes.
Apart from how tightly they grooved together, and how impressively they lit up their solos, the brothers paced the show beautifully — so that Regi’s rip-it-up solo and Victor’s pyrotechnics in “Me and My Bass Guitar” bookended Joseph’s heartfelt tribute to the brothers’ late sibling Rudi, a saxophonist now deceased.
The four surviving Wooten Brothers played an exceptional show, a Happy Birthday for Joseph, a monument to Rudi and a celebration of family, and funk.