The Wee Trio, Wee + 3 (Bionic Records)
OCTOBER 25, 2016 by: GERALDINE WYCKOFF
James Westfall stands as the New Orleans connection to the Wee Trio; the vibraphonist, a Houston native, came to the Crescent City to attend the University of New Orleans and spent some 14 years here on the jazz scene. Thus this special group, with bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig, returns quite often to renew the tie. (The band hits the Snug Harbor stage on Saturday, November 19.)
As the title Wee + 3 indicates, this time out the talented threesome invited some equally gifted musicians to join them, including New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton (with whom both Westfall and Schonig have previously performed), guitarist Nir Felder and pianist Fabian Almazan. Those into modern jazz get that these guys are superb instrumentalists.
Each of the members of the Wee Trio takes pen to hand for an album full of very individualist compositions. This plus the addition of the guest artists brings an ever-changing quality to the recording. The virtuosity of Felder stuns on the opening cut by Loomis, then Westfall’s cleverly named “Titan Up” jumps out of the box with Almazan’s piano and Westfall’s vibes bobbing and weaving. Credit drummer Schonig for the drive.
Fans of Payton will dig his blowing throughout, from his playful swagger to swing on Loomis’ “Sabotage” to the beauty of his soft blowing and subtle slurs on the wonderful “No Justice.”
Westfall’s New Orleans residency definitely shows on his original, “Belle Femme de Voodoo.” It boasts a Latin-tinged second line rhythm that is laid down by the drums with the rest of the trio joining the parade led by Payton’s trumpet.
Wee + 3 holds many provocative moments, though even at its most intense the music remains accessible. Talent will do that. The name the Wee Trio might sound diminutive but the musicianship is giant.
THE WEE TRIO Announces The Release of Wee + 3:
James Westfall (vibes), Dan Loomis (bass) & Jared Schonig (drums),
Joined by Very Special Guests: Nicholas Payton, Nir Felder & Fabian Almazán
(September 30, 2016 on Bionic Records)
The Wee Trio, James Westfall (vibes), Dan Loomis (bass) + Jared Schonig (drums), proudly announce the September 30, 2016 release of their fifth recording, Wee + 3, recorded at Systems Two in Brooklyn, NY, and featuring three musicians who are near and dear to the members of the Trio; the legendary trumpeter/composer Nicholas Payton (tracks 4, 5 & 6), guitarist/composer Nir Felder (tracks 1, 10 & 11), and pianist/composer Fabian Almazán (tracks 2, 3 & 9). Inviting guests to join this established, working group was born out of the band’s collective love of collaboration.
Wee + 3 is an album about relationships. Dan Loomis is from Middle America, Jared Schonig is from the West Coast and James Westfall is from the South. Together they have traveled to every corner of the country and the songs on this album celebrate their individual roots and their travels together. The bonds that The Wee Trio formed as a band happened very soon after they all moved to New York City and has strengthened over the years. In short, musically and personally, they are thick as thieves, and their camaraderie is fully explored and realized on the band’s previous four recordings, Capitol Diner Vol. 1 (2008), Capitol Diner Vol. 2 – Animal Style (2010), Ashes To Ashes – A David Bowie Intraspective (2012) and Live at The Bistro (2013). With Wee + 3, the fans are bearing witness to the first expansion of the trio as they welcome in three critically acclaimed, world-class musicians to the fold. Each guest artist has a unique personal relationship with the individual members of the band and all of the music on this record was composed for each of these guest artists, creating a stylistic spectrum that takes the listener through three different worlds, but all within the galaxy of The Wee Trio.
The guest artists also represent three distinct narrative points in the history of the band. Dan Loomis explains further, “Nicholas Payton is the prelude to our story as a band. We say that the trio connects so well because we had listened to so many of the same records. Mr. Payton’s music was definitely an important part of all our lives. His playing, his intention as a bandleader, and his compositions were important building blocks for all of our own musical conceptions and development. Nir Felder is the present tense in the story of the band. We all met Nir very soon after we moved to the city and played with him a lot in our first years here. Our encounter with Fabian Almazán is a look to the future. Jared has known Fabian for a several years, but James and I just started playing with him for this project. Fabian plays with relentless creativity that really brings out the best side of the band. We love to play familiar material and take a lot of risks with it – push it to see what new options we can find hidden in it. With Fabian we got a chance to expand that approach to a quartet setting and bring it some new material that we wrote especially for him. We think the results are magical!” In drummer Jared Schonig’s words, this record was, “really a dream for us to make, both compositionally and musically. We had many long discussions over two years, deciding who our guests would be, and we feel that we made such great choices. To add a fourth musical voice was like taking cake and putting more frosting on it just for the fun of it.”
More about the music on WEE + 3:
“R T 3” (feat. Nir Felder) – This song is the sound of the ocean as nearly as bassist Dan Loomis can capture it. You can hear the seagull cry in the intro. “My mother grew up in California and spent a lot time exploring the Pacific coast. I was born in Redwood City but raised in the Midwest. I always loved my trips back to California and I never feel right visiting without at least one visit to the ocean,” said Loomis.
“Titan UP” (feat. Fabian Almazán) – Westfall grew up in Houston, Texas and was an avid Houston Oilers fan. In the mid 1990’s the Oilers packed their bags and relocated to Tennessee changing their name to the Titans. Since Westfall’s recent arrival to his new home in Nashville, he has re-adopted the NFL franchise that moved away from him.
“Climb” (feat Fabian Almazán) – An epic composition written by Schonig to feature both Almazán’s creativity and Loomis’ strength moving around the bass. The title represents the climb to the top that we all inevitably face daily in life.
“Sabotage” (feat. Nicholas Payton) – One of the nation’s best venues is in St. Louis, MO (Loomis’ hometown), Jazz at the Bistro. The Wee Trio played there many times and even spent a weekend recording a live album there (Live at The Bistro from 2013). Loomis explains, “The second night of the recording we went to play our first set only to discover (mid-song!!) that the microphone cables had been cut!! We never found the culprit but clearly someone set out to sabotage the band! Thus Jared had a title for his new song.”
“No Justice” (feat. Nicholas Payton) – This song is a tribute to Loomis’ hometown, St. Louis, and particularly the suburb of Ferguson. “We have all been angered and saddened by the senseless violence by police against so many black youth across our country. But these events take on another dimension when they happen close to home. In the aftermath of tragic events like these, one thing that we can do is come together to make our voices heard against a culture that allows such actions. My partner and young boys have been to many demonstrations protesting these events and my kids’ favorite chant at these demonstrations is ‘No Justice, No Peace!’” said Loomis.
“Belle Femme De Voodoo” (feat. Nicholas Payton) – “As a former resident of New Orleans, this piece was written as a homage to the city. I spent the better part of 15 years living there and the city’s influence will always be burned in my personality. One of the city’s biggest musical influences today is Nicholas Payton. I’ve had the privilege of sharing the stage with him about a dozen times while living there and each of those gigs was a huge learning experience that I never took for granted. Having him be a part of this record was an honor. It was only fitting that Nicholas would be featured on a song written for New Orleans. Nicholas’ style is the perfect blend of Old New Orleans and New World,” said James Westfall.
“Lola” – This is a composition by Meshell Ndegeocello that Schonig arranged for the band. Schonig says “The band originally decided against having covers on this recording, but made an exception for an exceptional artist that we all admire.”
“Sound Evidence” – The lone original trio composition comes from Schonig after he sought out to write something both rhythmically interesting yet open enough for the harmonic instruments to have complete freedom while improvising. The title comes from Schonig’s brother, who made an astute observation during a game of ping-pong with the band to prove a certain shot had hit the table!
“Redwood” (feat. Fabian Almazán) – This is a tribute to Redwood groves in Northern California. “Walking through them you can have a feeling in an endless horizontal and vertical space. This song tries capture that expansiveness,” said Loomis.
“Gibbs Street” (feat. Nir Felder) – Schonig and Loomis met at Eastman School of Music in downtown Rochester, NY. This piece by Schonig is a homage to his experience there, balancing all that life is throwing at you. “Sometimes college can seem incredibly chill and then one moment chaos can ensue; whether it be with schoolwork, gigs, relationships-I tried to encapsulate all of that in this piece,” said Schonig.
“Apparition” (feat. Nir Felder) – “Nir is one of our favorite guitarists because, like The Wee Trio, he’s not afraid to rock out. Performing the song quartet gave us the opportunity for me to personify a wraith during the melody. The composition’s simplicity gave the trio enough room to stylistically take the direction in a more organic world that is true to our influences. The composition is one big launching pad for a shredding Nir Felder solo meant to kick ass and melt faces,” said Westfall.