Joining Victor were legendary percussionist Bobby Torres alongside Reinhardt Melz (drums), Jarrod Lawson (vocals and keyboards), David Goldblatt (keyboards) and the amazing Tracey Harris with her beautiful vocals.
The set list included four tracks from Vicotr's 2008 CD Inner Portrait. This CD is a great investment for any CD music collection as it not only showcases Victor's bass virtuosity but also highlights his compositional skills which are remarkable. In fact, master bassist Victor Wooten has stated "I've been a fan of Victor's bass playing for a long time. This CD, Inner Portrait, shows that his writing skills are also top notch."
None of the artists on Victor Little's CD were onstage with him this Friday night which allowed for a fresh approach to Victor's own compositions from artists who have not played them before. The truth is, one comes away wishing that these artists were on the CD, as well. This was a evening of displaying musical mastery and a comfort that comes from such mastery. The intimate setting at Alberta Rose Theatre allowed for familiarity between Victor and the audience.
After one particular Robert Glasper arrangement, which can be harrowing for any musician, someone in the audience asked what time that arrangement was in. Victor answered, "Ummm...it was like 1-1-1-1-1-1...or a long 6 then a cut 3 and back to a long 6... I don't know! It's all African shit! You can count it in 4's, so just call it 4!" Then he asked, "Is that Mike Prigodich asking that? He's always asking that stuff!" Mike Prigodich is Portland's fusion meister, who loves the bizarre meters that comes with fusion. As it turned out, it was not Mike who had asked the question although he was certainly in attendance.
This was not Robert Glasper's only contribution in absentia to the evening. Tracey Harris shared vocals with Jarrod Lawson on Glasper's original Ah Yeah from his 2011 CD release Black Radio. The original can be found by following the link below to Robert Glasper's MySpace page. This song is one of my very favorite compositions of 2011.
Tracey and Jarrod not only did the song justice, they took ownership of it. The refrain of "Ah yeah, ah yeah, ah yeah..." was so sweetly done by Tracey.
And the chemistry between Tracey and Jarrod is remarkable. Jarrod has that same gravitational pull with whomever joins him in vocal performance. It has been seen with Saeeda Wright and with Liv Warfield and with Arietta Ward. The trading of vocal lead, and the harmonies in Jarrod and Tracey's backing vocals for each other, were a treat to be savored. During the cover of Sly & the Family Stone's If You Want Me to Stay, Tracey's scat and Jarrod's drizzle was pure fun. Truth be told, Tracey was offstage for the beginning of the song but came to join Jarrod's singing just for the joy of it. Fun became a hallmark of the evening.
If You Want Me to Stay is one of those songs that has staying power over generations. It was not Sly & the Family Stone's biggest hit but it has endured more than any other song by them and retains, perhaps even has increased, the fun and attraction that marked it five decades ago. The audience was delighted by its inclusion in the set list and the cheers set off by the vocal treatment was riotous.
Of course, while these vocal fireworks were going off the band was working the song into a hurricane. Victor Little's bass was as funky as anything the Family Stone's Larry Graham ever did while Reinhardt Melz and Bobby Torres provided the invigorating rhythms. It was propulsion into new avenues of funk.
While the thunder and lightning were being brought down by Victor, Bobby and Reinhardt, the cool keys were being continuously laid down by David Goldblatt. David has performed with and for every notable jazz name you care to mention: Larry Carlton, Stanley Clarke, Jazz Crusaders, Roberta Flack, Sheila E, Flora Purim, Lee Ritenour, Alex Acuna...
David's keyboard work is always enhancing and does not distract. During the cover of Stevie Wonder's You Haven't Done Nothing, David took a very hot solo and built up the piece ever higher. He doesn't blister the keys, he coaxes them. If possible in an inanimate object, David seduces the keys. Even in his most relentless, most overwhelming, David Goldblatt still manages a sweetness to his playing. He was a surprising highlight to a night full of high lights.
Below is an example of David's keyboards skills that were on display at Alberta Rose Theatre. It features that muted trumpet program on his keyboard that made me sit up and take notice on more than one occassion. So help me, it sounded like Miles Davis was in the band!
And this was Jarrod offering the spotlight to a colleague deserving the spotlight. David plays with such subtlety that you may not notice what was played but it would certainly be missed if it were absent; small punctuations or even percussives that add to the overall sonic tapestry.
Reinhardt with Bobby Torres is an adventure in rhythm. Bobby plays the congas with power and with grace. It is always a treat to watch the sounds he pulls from the congas with finger-rubs and elbow bumps and slight touches from his fingertips and finger pads. He intones and he booms and he brings definition from what seems chaos. It was no small wonder that the promo posters read "...And Very Special Guest, Bobby Torres." Bobby was like the rock of Gibraltar sitting there, solid and unshakeable, like the patriarch of a great family whose family still wanted to hear his view of the world and were shaped by it.
Encircling and personifying it all was Victor Little himself. The master bassist and superlative composer is also the generous performer. Holding all the others in orbit, he guides them along starry paths that enlighten and enthrall the listeners. And yet he always spotlighted the other performers with him. "Ya'll wanna hear Jarrod sing?" he would shout to the audience or, "Let's keep Tracey up here for another one..." There was a perpetual smile on his face as he watched his fellow musicians perform at their best. At the evening's end, both Reinhardt and Jarrod agreed that this had been a fun enterprise.
The event was appropriately called Victor Little and Friends... because they truly acted like friends; each preferring the other. They joined in for fun with each other. There were no egos in sight but they contributed for the beauty of the whole sound. When David joined Jarrod on keys, it was for joy's sake. When Tracey came back onstage just to join Jarrod's vocals, it was for music's sake. And when Jarrod gave the lead to her, it was fitting and it was touching. When Bobby Torres hopped onto Reinhardt's solo, it was for enhancement. This is how great musicians act. This is certainly how friends act.
It was like Magic Johnson with a basketball. Watching Magic score was fun but watching him with a no-look pass for the assist was even better. To create a scenario for others to score was what made him my favorite basketball player of all-time. This was the essence of Victor Little's event.
Not only were were his friends past and present with him but also his friends near and far. As stated earlier, Victor lives in Los Angeles and Bobby, David, Tracey, Reinhardt and Jarrod all live in the Portland area. Victor brought them all together; friends old and new, near and far for an evening of delight and devotion.
In other words, Victor brings the rhythm upcourt... a quick pass to Tracey who dribbles twice then over to David who dishes in to Bobby in the post-up...Booby kicks it out to Jarrod who finds Victor cutting to the hole then the no-look pass to Reinhardt under the basket who dunks that rhythm with no time left on the clock!
Or something like that...