It’s a safe bet that very few of the folks who attended the Jimmy Herring Band/Victor Wooten Band double bill at Durham’s beloved Carolina Theater thought they would leave the building with any other performer’s name on their lips. As much as everyone marveled at the blatant and inspiring display of musicianship put on by Herring, Wooten, and their bands, no one could seem to stop talking about vocalist Krystal Peterson.
Unless they had been reading up on Wooten’s current band and tour, those in attendance couldn’t have known that the show would be one delightful surprise after another. The relentless astonishment of Wooten’s bass playing was expected, but the awe-inspiring band and wild setlist proved doubly enchanting. Shortly after Wooten and his new bandmates began the show with a preposterously funky groove, singer Peterson emerged to raise the energy level even higher. The next 75 minutes overflowed with aural goodies and crowd-pleasing covers, such as a take on the always-welcome “Tell Me Something Good.” The vocals became the focal point of the show, with the diminutive Peterson shaking, swaying, and swinging her way around the forest of basses, guitars, trombones, keyboards, and percussion, even the odd cello.
Employing a wide variety of formations, Wooten led the band through a selection of his touchstone songs as well as new originals and the aforementioned deluge of covers. Wooten even played guitar on one tune, and one of the more unique configurations featured 4 basses and two drummers. Steve Bailey (chair of the Berklee College of Music Bass Department) and longtime Wooten co-conspirator Dave Welsch alternated between various basses as well as keyboard and horns, adding to the carefully controlled chaos. The cheeky vocals of “My Life” provided funky comic relief before some serious action occurred.
The jams and teases were nearly innumerable as Wooten and the band worked though “Imagine This.” Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning” bumped up against the pop cheese of “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” amidst a slew of nods to tunes classical and contemporary. Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” allowed Peterson to sizzle and the band to stretch out into a wide-open groove space, with Wooten eventually incorporating a quote of the Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross ballad “Endless Love.” “Norweigan Wood” wormed its way into a Wooten/Peterson improvisation before Wooten was left alone on stage to give the crowd a hefty helping of his inimitable, mellifluous, thumping and winding solo bass compositions. Closing out the show with a full-band tune called “Heaven,” which paid tribute to those who have come and gone, the seven-piece group put an emotional bow on their far-reaching set.
Jimmy Herring’s set was relatively subdued by comparison, but no less impressive. Flanked by the core band featured on his latest album, Subject to Change Without Notice, Herring delivered faithful takes on the album’s material along with a couple of nifty deviations. Drummer Jeff Sipe has an uncanny ability to make everything that he’s involved in better, and the guys on the other side of the stage (bassist Neil Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum) made strong cases for their own ability. Herring’s signature flawless, expressive playing was at its normal incredible level, wavering embellishments and dense note clusters intact.
Amidst expected tunes like the soaring “Aberdeen,” the shamefully funky “Miss Poopie” and the gleeful boogie of “Bilgewater Blues,” Herring touched on tunes from the past. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” was at once carefully arranged and jaunty, with Herring handling the vocal lines via his trusty Stratocaster and cutting loose during moments awash in Slocum’s organ work. A pair of Beatles tunes – a mid-set “A Day in the Life” and “Within You Without You,” which appeared as an encore – were made no less impactful by the lack of a vocalist. After such a clean, perfectionist set, a little grease was needed, so every performer in the building was summoned for a rousing “Superstition” closer. This event was a true treat for the lucky audience, since Wooten and Herring had not often collaborated during the tour. The balcony wobbled with every downbeat as the musicians got lost in a maze of solos, Peterson held things together from verse to verse, and the stage threatened to overflow with energy. This show will forever be remembered as one of the most remarkable gatherings of talent the Bull City has ever seen.