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Bass-ed on a true story 

An Oteil and the Peacemakers re-enactment

BRANDYHOUSE, NOV. 3 -- What music fan could forget the sheer innovation with which Noel Redding sipped his beer backstage at Woodstock while Jimi Hendrix performed "The Star-Spangled Banner," or the raw vision at work when Duff McKagen's hair accidentally came into frame during the filming of a Guns 'N' Roses video, prompting a re-shoot. Seriously people, they just don't come more glamorous than bass players; Rusty Allen, Sam Jones, Rodney "Skeet" Curtis -- names so electric, they need no back-light to kindle the marquees on which they appear.

OK, so maybe those weren't the best examples. But while the bass tradition has been characterized by many a forgotten sideman, it also has its luminaries. One such breakthrough artist was in town when bassist supreme Oteil Burbridge and the Peacemakers funked up the Brandyhouse.

Athens-based jazz mongers Squat established an impressive opening foundation with a stylistically diverse and soulful set. While Squat's sound has strong Latin leanings, they pull out everything from straight-ahead swing to gospel and make it speak with authenticity. The reggae-infused "A Prayer" had a particularly endearing integrity, with a heavy bowed-bass vibe. Bassist and occasional vocalist Carl Lindberg's chant-like lyricism gave way to a kinetic syncopated groove, as the crowd moved to the musical mantra.

Oteil and company took the stage shortly thereafter. "We're gonna play some fonk tonight," exclaimed the front man. Their opening cut, "Butter Biscuit," made good on that promise. With a groove so large it wouldn't be allowed on certain roller coasters, "Butter Biscuit" wasn't so much performed as it was unleashed. This song was the first of many allowing generous room for the former Aquarium Rescue Unit and current Allman Brothers Band bassist to showcase his rare skills. Toward the end of the song, Oteil serenaded the crowd with one of his signature scat sessions, ranging from angelic falsetto harmonies to gritty, ear-bending "dig-diggity-dee-diggity" 32nd-note vocal runs, all matched note for note on his six-string electric bass, of course.

Oteil also switched it up, as he wired his upright bass for some "Monk Funk." Though the song was titled "Monk Funk," Oteil's sinister hopping upright line was more reminiscent of Mingus' "II B.S." ("immortalized" in that recent Volkswagen grandpa/boo boo ad). "Monk Funk" gave guitarist Mark Kimbrell a little more room to solo, but his short-phrased scribbling played second fiddle to Oteil's upright yet again. A little more prominent was the sax work of tenor man Kebbi Williams, who used an effects-processed mic to create an electric synth tone in the Eddie Harris. Sonny Stitt electric saxophone tradition.

While Oteil's virtuosity remained impressive throughout the night, the ensemble was at its best when it was holding down the funk, squarely in the pocket. Unfortunately, there were moments when "technique overload" obscured the funky urgency in this music, steering it toward the prog-rock badlands. As the sleepy-looking crowd indicated during these moments, when it comes to funk, prog = grog.

For the most part, however, Oteil and the Peacemakers presented themselves in a compositionally advanced but still funky kind of way. "Subterranea" was a good example of Oteil's ability to synthesize form and feeling. Slapping and popping the strings, his right arm churning like a flesh piston, Oteil proved why he is one of the true contemporary geniuses on the bass.

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