"Lightning in a bottle" is an excellent metaphor for The Wee Trio's Capitol Diner Vol. 1, given how the music crackles like high-tension wires in a rainstorm. But it's the level of electricity that is the surprise. On its face, TWT's instrumental makeupvibes with a rhythm sectiondoesn't seem to lend itself to any kind of aggressive musical behavior. That's an assumption and, like most assumptions, it's dead wrong.
James Westfall's disquieting opening to Kurt Cobain's "About a Girl" is the first clue that something different is happening here. Just as Westfall establishes his ringing tone, the rhythm section grabs the listener by the lapels and yankshard. Dan Loomis lays down a taut, muscular bottom while Jared Schonig launches fill after fill after fill, propelling the tune irresistibly forward as Westfall's solo goes for the throat. Nirvana's music always had Cobain's sense of anger and disaffection at its base; TWT understands this, which is why "About a Girl" succeeds where Charlie Hunter's wayward attempt at "Come as You Are" fails.
Although the liner notes insist Cobain's song is "a bit more hard-rocking" than TWT's usual fare, Diner never really retreats from its initial attack. Even on slower pieces like Isham Jones' "There is No Greater Love" or Loomis' swirling "Satyagraha," the band's collective Inner Doberman keeps on growling. Westfall wrote the lilting "Song for Harry Potter" with J.K. Rowling's early books in mind, but elements of Westfall and Loomis' respective solos intimate the darkness awaiting Potter in his later years. Another Westfall work"The Ghost of Potato Creek Johnny"follows his spooky "Phantom Prelude," which transports the listener to an echoing cave where Johnny may have hidden the largest gold nugget ever found.
Writing about the Old West should be second nature to Westfall, since he is a gunslinger in his own right: The New Orleans resident's quicksilver speed and adventurous solos have the same quality as Stefon Harris' best efforts. Schonig is an absolute beast on Diner; even when he's limited to brushes and hand drumming on "Orange Finnish Tulip," there are reminders aplenty of the explosiveness that came before. Although Loomis' writing and solo work are as spellbinding as they were on the Dan Loomis Quartet's fiery disc I Love Paris (Jazz Excursion, 2007), Diner does not serve Loomis as well on balance, as his excellent support work has to fight to be heard over Westfall and Schonig's twin towers of power.
Capitol Diner Vol. 1 is named for the Harrisburg, PA eatery where the musicians bonded over State Capitol placemats before heading to their first gig as a unit. However, this disc is a lot more than musical comfort food; it's a blue plate special Guy Fieri could wax poetic about on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Presumably Vol. 2 will appear at some point, giving The Wee Trio a shot at what all good diners receive, and what this group deserves: Repeat business.
Personnel: James Westfall: vibes; Dan Loomis: bass; Jared Schonig: drums.