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The Wee Trio: Wee +3

Dan Bilawsky By

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The Wee Trio delivered quite a bit of variety over the course of its first four albums. The first two—Capitol Diner, Vol. I (Bionic Records, 2008) and Capitol Diner, Vol. II: Animal Style (Bionic Records, 2010)—established the musical ground and syntax that are part and parcel of this three-way partnership; Ashes To Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective (Bionic Record, 2012) demonstrated much of what can be done to mutate and honor David Bowie's music, almost foretelling the growth of Bowie-inflected jazz (and jazz-influenced Bowie) without aligning itself with any particular sonic strain or dialect of Lazarus' language; and Live At The Bistro (Bionic Records, 2013) captured the trio in prime form without a safety net, presenting its consistent yet evolved sound from the stage. Now, for album number five, vibraphonist James Westfall, bassist Dan Loomis, and drummer Jared Schonig have opted to expand their horizons yet again by bringing in a trio of collaborators.

Wee +3 puts pianist Fabian Almazan, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and guitarist Nir Felder into play on three tracks apiece. These guests never undermine the trio's dynamic or disturb the balance evident here and in its past work. That's both a testament to the skills of these visitors and an indication of how solid, strong, and sensitive The Wee Trio is as a unit. The material covered herein—all originals, with the exception of Schonig's amped-up arrangement of MeShell NdegeOcello's "Lola"—has autobiographical suggestions. The airy ocean soundscape that introduces the Felder-enhanced "R T 3," for example, comes out of Loomis' love for the Pacific and his fond memories of childhood travels from his home in the Midwest to the land of his birth—California. His "Redwood" looks in the same direction but from a different vantage point. Loomis' bass muses along with Almazon's piano while cymbals swell and marimba lays a steady, hypnotic foundation. Eventually that thoughtful spell gives way to a more groove-centric presentation that's limber yet diamond hard in design.

Westfall spent fifteen years living in the Crescent City, where he had the opportunity to work with Payton on a number of occasions, so it only seems fitting that the trumpeter join The Wee Trio here for the mallet man's nod to NOLA dubbed "Belle Femme De Voodoo." It's a swampy good time that stands as one of the album's highlights. His other contributions—"Apparition," with an intense middle book-ended by hazy and compelling music worthy of a score for a Michael Mann film, and "Titan Up," a rocking nod to his football franchise of choice—are also standouts.

Schonig's work is equally self-referential. The chilled-and-grooving "Gibbs Street" looks back to Rochester, New York, where he met Loomis while both were studying at the Eastman School of Music; "Sabotage," a number that vacillates between funk and swing, looks back to a strange experience that took place when the trio discovered cut microphone cables during a gig in St. Louis; and the stable yet disorienting "Sound Evidence," which dispenses with guests, takes its name from a phrase that Schonig's brother coined as a method for proving a ping-pong ball made contact with the table.

All of these in-jokes and stories make for highly personalized music, but The Wee Trio doesn't leave listeners out in the cold. This is highly accessible music built on a unique blend of intellect, brawn, sensitivity, and humor. Nobody sounds quite like The Wee Trio, and nobody could.

Track Listing: Rt3; Titan Up; Climb; Sabotage; No Justice; Belle Femme De Voodoo; Lola; Sound Evidence; Redwood; Gibbs Street; Apparition.

Personnel: James Westfall: vibraphone; Dan Loomis: bass; Jared Schonig: drums; Fabian Almazan: Piano; Nicholas Payton: Trumpet; Nir Felder: Guitar.

Title: Wee +3 | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Bionic Records


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