Twenty years ago, a team like S.M.V. would have been impossible. The role of the electric bass as a solo instrument still wasn’t fully developed, let alone the task of finding room within a band for three star bassists with distinctive identities. Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten have proved it is possible with a gratifyingly musical album “Thunder” (Heads Up) and their rollicking Thunder Tour, which rattled the subwoofers at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night.
It was Clarke who, in the early 1970s, got the idea rolling of an electric-bass hero — and whenever he finds the time to break away from his film-scoring chores, he keeps in absolute command of his skills as a performer. Likewise, Miller, a protean multi-instrumentalist/composer/producer, and Wooten, long a fixture in Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, are constantly busy. They played together for the first time in October at a Bass Player Live! gathering in New York City — and their chemistry was evidently too strong to dismiss with a one-off jam.
At times, the three fell into comfortable positions on the bass spectrum: Clarke with his slamming chords and upper-register runs, Miller laying down the slapping bottom end, Wooten doing some post-Jaco sustained notes up top. The amazing thing is that these were bass styles, not imitations of a guitar or a horn, yet satisfying in their variety and not at all confining as they switched roles and jammed happily.
In deference to their star power, each had a solo showcase. Clarke delivered a physically astounding workout on the standup bass in “Milano,” with right-arm pinwheel flourishes worthy of Pete Townshend; Miller cranked out rapid-fire funk in Miles Davis’ “Jean Pierre”; and Wooten popped out funk over his own loops. The inevitable finale was Clarke’s “School Days,” whose signature riff every journeyman bassist was required to know in 1976.
George Benson, whose hit “This Masquerade” was the equivalent must-play for guitarist-singers in 1976, delivered his standard set encompassing only about a decade from his long career, literally from “Off Broadway” to “On Broadway.” He restored two versions of “Love Ballad” to his act after a long absence; the notes effortlessly fell out of his guitar in neat funky patterns, and once again, his vocals electrified the Bowl.
Opening the show was the late-blooming singer-songwriter Sharon Robinson, stepping out of the shadows at last with a unified, sauntering, warm-shaded set of songs and a sultry alto voice.