WITH FOUR KIDS ages 7, 4, 1 and 3 months, Victor Wooten's house is full of activity, something like a circus.
Away from the stage and the studio, the jazz fusion bassist is a family man who relishes the joys of home. And all of that fun, warmth and vibrancy translate nicely on his latest album, Soul Circus, in stores Tuesday. The 16-cut record is a family affair.
"I usually involve the kids when I make an album," says Wooten, who is calling from his Nashville home. "That's my son Adam -- he's 4 -- on the intro on the record, and my daughter Kaila, who's 7, is on the outro. My wife, Holly, sings on 'Back to India.'"
The music on Soul Circus veers from loose, irreverent funk jams to mellow, summery, mid-tempo joints. Hip-hop and eclectic Middle Eastern shadings color the mix here and there. Wooten will bring his funky bag of sounds to D.C.'s 9:30 Club on April 15 as part of a national tour to promote his fifth album.
"It's a collection of fun material played by fun musicians," the 40-year-old musician says of Soul Circus. "I like to blend a lot of different elements on my albums and in my concerts, very much like a circus, where you don't know what you may hear next."
The album isn't as overreaching as 1999's Yin-Yang, a two-disc set. But Soul Circus, like all of Wooten's records, isn't short on ambition. But this time his focus is a little tighter. The production throughout is very polished, giving everything a familiar sheen even when the mix folds in such disparate ideas as cell-phone rings and chunky backbeats.
"I wanted to make a radio record where I didn't have to sacrifice the musicality," Wooten says. "It's a progressive pop record."
On Soul Circus, Wooten's jazz leanings are pretty much nonexistent. They're suggested on the instrumental version of "Can't Hide Love," the evergreen written by the late Skip Scarborough that Earth, Wind and Fire turned into a hit in 1976. It's a highlight on the uneven record.
The really awkward, dated-sounding moments are the hip-hop-flavored tracks. "Cell Phone," a not-so-clever cut that works as a Nokia commercial spot but not on an album, features the stilted rhymes of MC Divinity. Speech, the former Arrested Development front man, spits a brief rap on the breezy "On and On," featuring Angie Stone-like vocals by newcomer Saundra Williams. Although his rhyme is smooth, it's unnecessary, adding nothing to what is already a fine tune.
Overall, Soul Circus sticks to a glossy urban sound with enough inventive tricks to keep it interesting.
It's the kind of hard-to-peg album major record companies avoid these days. Soul Circus is Wooten's debut for the independent Vanguard Records.
"The label affords me the artistic freedom to move forward with my music," says the Newport News, Va., native. "I would love to see the music industry take a backward step and become more about music and less about industry. I would love to see it become more about talent."
But in the meantime, Wooten plans to do his part to keep some integrity in the music and, above all, add some fun and adventure.
He says, "It's always about progression."