The Wee Trio – Capitol Diner Vol. 1 (2008)

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Photobucket“The best post-punk jazz trio with vibraphone ever.”

That’s the bold declaration you’ll find when you click on the link at the bottom of this article to purchase their CD. It’s also very hard to argue with that statement.

James Westfall (vibes), Dan Loomis (acoustic bass) and Jared Schonig (drums) make up this intriguing combination of which to my knowledge there’s no peer in jazz…or any other kind of music, for that matter. To these guys, “jazz” is just a word, anyway. “Attitude,” on the other hand, means something here. From this unusual and lean configuration, the Trio traverses over jazz, pop, grunge, and anything else that gives them a vehicle for pursuing richly intense, vibe-led, acoustic trio music.

Yes, it’s vibe-led by Westfall, whose distinction as the first vibraphonist accepted into L.A.’s Monk Institute tells you a bit about his ability to lead a band. At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore what the other two guys are putting down.

This past September 8, The Wee Trio issued their debut CD, Capitol Diner Vol. 1, and made a loud statement that they are going to change people’s perception about the kind of music you can make from a getup that most would think makes quaint, passive jazz.

On the contrary.

The proceedings start with a decidedly un-jazz tune, the Kurt Cobain-penned “About A Girl,” which gives the combo the chance to right away to announce that they aren’t going to inspire many comparisons to Lionel Hampton. The beat marches stridently more than it swings (some would say it rocks), as Schonig provides plenty of nifty little fills that recalls Stewart Copeland more than it does, say, Elvin Jones. And why not go on those excursions? Loomis has got the bottom anchored down tight. Westfall’s vibes show some Gary Burton heritage, but he’s really not playing it a whole lot like a vibraphone is played; the phrasings resemble more of an electric guitarist.

Another cover culled from the pop/rock realm is Sufjan Steven’s “Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid).” Wastfall’s tones down his vibes and makes it an instrument of soft pulses instead of percussive power chords. The somber mood it evokes is renders Stevens’ baroque style of pop effectively without sounding quite the same. These boys can rock, but they can take it slow when the situation calls for it.

The closer does actually come the jazz world, a wonderfully eccentric piece from Thelonious Monk called “Wee See” (and perhaps the inspiration for the trio’s name). It’s played with a lot of vigor by all three and after a couple of go ’rounds with the theme, Westfall swings hard while Loomis and Schonig are of the same mind. It’s a fitting look back at tradition of vibe jazz done with the mindset of twenty-first century musicians.

The tracks composed separately by Westfall and Loomis show yet more sides of the band. “The Ghost Of Potato Creek Johnny” is their quickest tune, with Schonig demolishing his kit and Westfall making rapid runs. “Song For Harry Potter” has a strong memorable melody that lightly waltzes, with Loomis and Schonig providing a strong undercurrent.

“Pisces” veers close to avant garde jazz with a partially dissonant bassline and an outstanding drum solo by Schonig. The mid-tempo “Satyagraha” showcases some nifty bass work by Loomis on his solo break.

A combination that was originally intended to be a temporary collaboration for a single tour, the vibe (heh) that came from that tour was so strong The Wee Trio is now a going concern. In fact, Capitol Diner Vol. 2 was recorded right after Vol. 1, and so we have the follow-up to look forward to soon. Already, the Trio promises that Vol. 2 will rock even harder.

Whether it does or not, The Wee Trio is already one vibe trio that’s a force to be reckoned with.

Here are the boys performing “The Ghost of Potato Creek Johnny” in a small venue in front of an appreciative crowd:


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