Monday, October 31, 2016

The Wee Trio goes on tour, picking up a fourth player when it can, behind "Wee + 3"

There's nothing especially diminutive about the three men in their mid-30s who make up the Wee Trio, which will play the Jazz Kitchen on Nov. 9.

The group chose its name with a touch of humor (including a nod to Nintendo's Wii game, new at the time). The  original billing of the group with the names of its members — James Westfall, Dan Loomis, and Jared Schonig — was too cumbersome to last for long.

Rapport from the get-go: Dan Loomis, James Westfall, and Jared Schonig are the Wee Trio.
"But I don't know if we ever saw the group from a long-term perspective," the vibraphonist told me in a phone interview last week. "We played together a few times and found we had the same language in common to a T. So we said, 'Let's try to play a few gigs.'"

Bassist Loomis and drummer Schonig went back several years — to student days at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. —  before the Wee Trio first got together in Brooklyn, where the two Eastman grads lived across the street from Westfall.

All had strong affinities with pop music that they applied to their first efforts as an ensemble. Subsequently, all members have created the bulk of Wee Trio repertoire. In the beginning, however, "I brought in some Nirvana songs," Westfall recalled, "and Dan has a love for country-and-western music. We actually did a country gig together and played some Merle Haggard songs."

One of several CDs the Wee Trio has released is a David Bowie tribute called "Ashes to Ashes." The tight blend of bass-drums-and-vibes has also established itself on disc with"Capitol Diner," volumes 1 and 2, a live album, and now "Wee + 3," which has just cleared the first hurdle on the way to a potential Grammy Award. The "3" in the title refers to the fourth musician on most of the tracks. Each of the three guests plays three original Wee Trio tunes with the group. They are pianist Fabian Almazar, guitarist Nir Felder, and star trumpeter Nicholas Payton.

The guests fit the Wee Trio hand-in-glove each time they appear on the new recording. In a video made to promote the release, Westfall says the pieces were all written with these particular guests in mind. He compares the procedure to the time-honored practice of Duke Ellington, who showcased the personalities of his sidemen when arranging and composing for the band.

That aesthetic is hard to fulfill on the road, Westfall said, while also promoting the new disc. In several places, local players have been found to fit the right slots in the new compositions. Otherwise, unless one of the original guests is available, the Wee Trio draws on its substantial repertoire as a trio.

Indianapolis is in luck, however: Matt Pivec, director of jazz studies at Butler University and an excellent composer and saxophonist, will be sitting in with the group in its Jazz Kitchen appearance.

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