“I was happy to be called to play bass— not to spin the bass around my neck or even to solo, but just to play foundational, grooving bass, which is what I love to do.” So says Victor Wooten remembering a call from Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Jeff Coffin to anchor a live recording in Nashville featuring saxophone titan Dave Liebman. On the Corner Live!: The Music of Miles Davis, with drummer Chester Thompson, keyboardist Chris Walters, and guitarist James DiSilva rounding out the sextet, draws from Davis’ fertile 1972 jazz–rock–funk platter of the same name, on which Liebman played a starring role. The unit also covers material from Davis’In a Silent Wayand Live Evil [all on Columbia]. That meant mining the minimalist, hypnotic ostinatos of Michael Henderson. Offers Wooten, “I was familiar with Miles’ music in that era through my brothers, who were avid listeners, but I didn’t really know the players. I knew Michael more from being a pop vocalist in the late ’70s, with his hit, ‘You Are My Starship.’ He was certainly the vital backbone of Miles’ music in that period.”

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To prepare for the gig at the Nashville venue 3rd and Lindsley, the band received recordings and charts and had one rehearsal. “Dave likes to keep it loose, so a chart might have eight bars of a notated line and that’s it, or a little notation and then a prompt that the bass player and drummer should come up with a new groove in a specified key. I love that, because it invites the band in. Dave trusted us to provide him with quality support and inspiration.” As for his rhythm mate, Thompson, best known for his work with Phil Collins, Frank Zappa, and Weather Report — including Jaco’s debut with the band, “Barbary Coast” [Black Market, 1976, Columbia] — Wooten was hip. “Chester lives here in Nashville, so I’ve gotten to play and hang out with him a good bit. He comes from an older school of drumming that reminds me of playing with my brother Roy or Lenny White. There’s a grit and humanity in their playing that’s sometimes missing from younger, chops-’n’-flash-oriented drummers. Their sole objective is to make the song or the soloist sound good, and there’s always a little dirt in their part that brings the emotion to the music.”

Wooten is equal parts hands and ears throughout the album. He sets up a percolating boogaloo on the title track and works angular, intervallic written lines into his pulse on “Wili” (listen for his quick E-string tune-down to grab a few ultra-low notes). Elsewhere, his free-form, harmonics-infused “Bass Interlude” settles into the briskly paced, dynamic “Black Satin,” and he picks up his fretless Taylor acoustic bass guitar for the airy ballad “Selim.” Staying home on the two-note ostinato of “Ife” leads to more stretching on the experimental burner “Mojo.” Finally, his bubbling, muted-fingerstyle foray drives the album-closing “Jean-Pierre” [We Want Miles, 1982, Columbia]—a more contemporary Davis cover that boasted a young Marcus Miller.

Victor Promo Pic

With so many of the album’s songs centered around one-chord vamps, does Wooten have advice for bassists faced with similar situations, who are unclear about when to stay home on the bass line and when to improvise? “To me, there are three keys: First, don’t be afraid to play something over and over. That creates a musical mantra or trance, which is really what a groove is supposed to do. At the same time, you can’t play a repetitive figure as if you’re coasting; you have to continually add momentum and energy so the song can maintain itself and move forward. The second key is listening; if you do that correctly, the song and the band will let you know when to change or if you need to change. That kind of conversational approach will also keep the song alive. The third key is having some kind of theory knowledge to understand that just because you’re playing on one chord doesn’t mean you can only play the root. There are seven diatonic chords in the given key to choose notes from. So if we’re in Gm, I may play and or an Aat the end of an eight-bar phrase, just to change the chord quality and throw in a different color. That’s the power of the bass: We can change the quality of the chord simply by playing a different note. As I tell students at Berklee, every instrument has a superpower. Once you learn what it is and how to use it, you become more potent as a musician.”

For Wooten, the opportunity to cover the bass chair for this historic revisit was its own reward. “I got to play Miles Davis’ music with the great Dave Liebman, one of Miles’ musicians. That’s an honor that will hold a special place in my career.”

Victor Wooten

Listen

On the Corner Live!: The Music of Miles Davis[2019, Ear Up]

Gear

433041

Basses Fodera Yin-Yang 4-string, fretless Taylor acoustic bass guitar

Strings DR Strings Pure Blues PBVW-40

Amps Hartke LH1000 head with 410 Hydrive cabinet

Effects Zoom B3 Bass Effects Pedal