Victor Wooten makes it clear in the first few seconds of Palmystery that he's the man in charge. His spellbinding, acrobatic basslines take the lead, literally, and even when he's fulfilling the traditional role of the bassist (not that there's much about his virtuosic playing that's traditional) and shining the spotlight on his collaborators, he remains the focal point. Yet Wooten, the veteran bassist of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, is no showoff. Through mostly original compositions (the sole cover is Horace Silver's "Song for My Father") that glide easily between jazz fusion, world music, R&B, gospel, rock, and funk, through instrumental and vocal sections, improvisations and structured pieces, Wooten holds it all together -- it's nearly impossible not to listen to what he's doing with his instrument. Still, although the musicianship is never less than stellar throughout and always takes a front seat, this is not an indulgent record -- Wooten and his crew serve the songs, not vice versa, and they do so with panache. The leadoff track, "2 Timers," serves notice that this is going to be a fun listen, not a difficult one, despite the complexity often inherent: with one drummer playing in 3/4 time and the other in 4/4 (hence the title), Wooten alternately hands the reins over to violinist Eric Silver, a three-man horn section, harmonica ace Howard Levy, and brother Joseph Wooten on keyboards. Continual shifts of tempo, mood, and texture keep things lively and then, just in case it seems like this is how it might stay, the second track, the Arabian-flavored "Cambo," puts an entirely different spin on things. With lead and choired vocals by co-writer Amir Ali and Saundra Williams, Wooten lays down a solid rhythm over which brothers Joseph and guitarist Regi Wooten work out, along with Ali on violin, lute, and darbouka (an African hand drum). Each successive track expands the album's colorings: on "I Saw God," which features Richard Bona among its vocalists, Victor Wooten offers a non-religious person's impressions of his confrontation with a unisexual, philosophical, word-playing deity, while the flamenco-esque "The Lesson" pares down the cast to just Victor on bass and another Flecktone brother, Roy Wooten, supplying percussion. And so on throughout: "The Gospel" doubles up Wooten's fretted and fretless basses with ghostly vocals from the Woodard Family and a team of horns, and the Silver interpretation is spirited and swinging, with Karl Denson's tenor saxophone among the more notable solos on the record. "Us 2," the closing track, is also the quietest, Wooten laying low on basses and drum programming while Keb' Mo' peels off sleek slide guitar licks and Joseph Wooten lays down a bed of keyboards. "Sifu" utilizes Mike Stern's guitar. "Miss U," which features the Lee Boys on vocals, Roosevelt "The Doctor" Collier on pedal steel, and Alvin Lee (presumably not the Ten Years After guitarist) on guitar, is a gospelized, bluesy, soul-fried rave-up that gives Wooten a chance to show off his boogie power. Palmystery solidifies Victor Wooten's rep not only as one of the most skillful, inventive bassists on the planet but a heck of a diversified songwriter and bandleader, too.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin
feat: The Lee Boys