Three bassists thrill the crowd

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Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras did not do their most historic work in opera as the Three Tenors. Similarly, the supergroup S.M.V., featuring bassists Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten, seems more a way to maximize turnout than to create music of enduring significance.

Still, these virtuosos harnessed satisfying moments on Tuesday night, playing the Keswick Theatre in support of their new CD, Thunder (Heads Up). Joining them were the unerring drummer Derico Watson and the versatile keyboardist Federico Gonzalez Peña.

Facing off in solo exchanges on Miller's "Thunder," a funk track with hip-hop inflections, the bassists brought down the house within minutes. The playing, indeed, was thunderous, full of technical dazzle, even if the music under it seemed slight and utilitarian.

Wooten's "Hillbillies on a Quiet Afternoon," with a loping beat and ear-catching melody, brought the interest level up several notches. So did Peña, in a superb extended solo during Wooten's "Mongoose Walk." (Chick Corea plays on the album version.)

The electric bass guitar, a staple of postwar popular music, was relegated to the background of rock and soul bands until Clarke, Jaco Pastorius and others "liberated" the instrument in the era of '70s jazz fusion. Quicksilver single-note lines, polyphony, intricate thumb-slapping, even strummed chords - all became part of the modern bass player's vocabulary.

Stylistically, Miller and Wooten are Clarke's children. Miller, who apprenticed with Miles Davis in the '80s, tends toward a funk-heavy, bottom-register approach. Switching to bass clarinet, he prefaced his "Tutu," a classic vehicle for Davis, with a lithe, out-of-tempo version of the ballad "When I Fall in Love."

Wooten, of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, is probably S.M.V.'s nimblest, most adaptable player. His solo feature involved wild pitch-shift effects and sound-on-sound looping, all in service of a gospel theme in three-quarter time.

But most of the adulation was reserved for Clarke, a Philadelphia native. Miller's "Milano," conceived for Clarke on acoustic bass, was the evening's culminating feature. Much as he did at the Mann Center exactly two weeks before (with the reunited Return to Forever), Clarke unleashed flamenco rasgueado strumming and Pete Townshend-esque windmills, knocking the hometown crowd on its rear.