Tones do the talking for bassist Wooten

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Victor Wooten and his band will play the Newport Music Hall Wednesday, April 24.
Wednesday April 17, 2013 5:04 PM

Bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten speaks music.

Not about music. Music. Wooten, perhaps best-known as a member of jazz-grass-rock supergroup Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, grew up around music -- experiencing it, learning it, playing it. The way, he said, most people learn to speak.

"I look at it this way -- you learned English without learning it. You were not forced to be a beginner, or put in groups with other people who only knew as much as you did, or not allowed to talk to people who spoke better than you. I learned music at the same time and in the same way. I have another language."

Wooten started gigging at age 5. His parents took him to concerts by famous artists such as James Brown and less-famous artists alike. The Wooten garage was jam central for their area. And Victor and his brothers formed a band, the Wooten Brothers Band. The youngest, Victor was taught to play bass by his oldest brother, Regi.

"I was fortunate to have my family foster that for me."

So it's not that far removed to have Wooten playing language games with the titles of his new CDs. The dual-CD release, Words and Tones and Sword and Stone, features one CD of new Wooten songs featuring the guest vocals of a variety of female singers and one of many of the same songs without the vocals. The titles are not merely anagrams, but achieved by swapping the 'S' from the end of the word to the beginning. Which is just the beginning of the fun.

"My brother Regi is into stories and legends and fables. He was saying that you just know the story of the sword and the stone, about King Arthur, is about more than just that. In the same way, you look at Words and Tones -- who can pull the words from the tones?"

"The tones themselves are utterances. Music is tones. Songs make you feel things. So there are meanings, sometimes hidden, in the sounds. And that's what we all do. We pull meaning from them."

Hidden meanings? They're there, Wooten says, if you want them.

"I try to make records that are interesting on different levels. If you want to dig deeper, into meanings or the music, you can do that. But if you want to just sit back and enjoy, you can do that, too."

For this project, Wooten had his slate of "some of my favorite female vocalists" pull meanings from his tones in the form of writing the lyrics they'd be singing. But it was the process of sharing the music with his singers that resulted in the companion instrumental CD.

"I didn't plan to do two. I just planned on Words and Tones with female voices. But usually I'd have the melodies written, so I was sending tracks to the singers, and using different instruments to add the melodies.

"I liked it. So I started doing more instrumental tracks. And the idea for a full second record came from that. For most of them, we rearranged the songs; we didn't just take out the voice."

"Something interesting happens when you remove the voice. It allows your mind to venture out into other parts of the song. Vocals create focus, as they should. But this was kind of cool to explore different parts of my musical mind."

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