The Wee Trio
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The Wee Trio

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Acoustic


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"San Francisco Chronicle"

Friday, September 12, 2008

In the tradition of the Bad Plus, the Wee Trio consists of jazzmen who grew up on rock 'n' roll and aren't afraid to play it. The group's premiere CD, "Capitol Diner Vol. 1," has a splendid version of Nirvana's "About a Girl" and also a take on Thelonious Monk's "We See," where the group's name comes from. With James Westfall's vibes in the forefront, the group has a fresh sound, and bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig flow like the tides. Wee's sound is not wee, it's huge. Hear it at $10. 8 p.m. Tuesday. West Valley College Theater, 14000 Fruitvale Ave., Saratoga. $10. 8 p.m. Wednesday. Anna's Jazz Island, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley. (510) 841-5299,

This article appeared on page N - 16 of the San Francisco Chronicle

- San Francisco Chronicle

"Wee Trio Members are thinking Big"

NEW YORK - They're called the Wee Trio, but there's nothing small about these three guys straight from the eclectic Brooklyn scene. Not their music, a free-spirited brew that works in Nirvana and Sufjan Stevens covers beside Thelonious Monk classics. And not their personality: From the Wee ones, who visit the Lily Pad tonight, emanates the goofy, endearing feel of buddies whose chemistry carries well off the bandstand.

It makes for a winning debut, as heard on the group's album "Capitol Diner, Vol. I" - and all the more so for the instrumentation. With James Westfall on vibraphone, Dan Loomis on bass, and Jared Schonig on drums, the Wee lineup is one seldom seen in jazz. Virtually every vibes-fronted combo - whether led by Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Stefon Harris, or any other vibist of note - has featured piano or horns in the front line.

Point this out to the guys, though, and they respond only with bemusement, as if it were the first time they considered this pioneering aspect.

"I never really thought about that," says Westfall, on the phone from New Orleans, where he moved with his fiancee last year. "I never really grew up listening to vibes players per se," he adds. Growing up in Houston and attending that city's High School for Visual and Performing Arts (which also produced pianists Jason Moran and Rob ert Glasper), he was a percussionist and pianist before settling on the mallets.

Sitting at the dining table in Loomis's Brooklyn apartment, Schonig and Loomis expand on the point, happily interrupting each other as they go.

"Yeah, whenever you hear of a vibes-led group, there's usually another chordal instrument - piano, guitar, whatever," Schonig says.

"It's kind of surprising, because it works so well," says Loomis.

They explain that Westfall is as comfortable with four-mallet technique, which allows playing chords, as with melodies played with two mallets. "So you can go in any direction," Loomis says. "Because it's just a melodic line and a bass line and drum set, so you have this real three-way conversation. And it's the best of both worlds, because you can go back to him playing four mallets and have this big lush sound."

"It's kind of the perfect response to the piano trio," Loomis adds. "The piano trio is this intimate feeling, but it's always dominated by the pianist because he has so much information. This is a little more democratic."

The democratic impulse extends to the way the Wees pick their material. Aged 25 to 28 and raised variously in Texas, Missouri, and California, they don't conceal their love of rock - the Nirvana nod, "About a Girl," opens their album and often, they say, their sets - and the priority they place on rhythm and melodic clarity.

And their own compositions, which they describe in entertaining liner-note blurbs, invoke Mahatma Gandhi and classical sonatas, but also Harry Potter and a legendary South Dakota ghost known as Potato Creek Johnny.

Though forged in Brooklyn - where Loomis and Schonig moved after being roommates at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and where they found Westfall living across the street - the Wee Trio is at root a road band. In fact, though the three were already gigging together on the New York scene, Westfall proposed forming the trio for the specific purpose of going on a Rust Belt tour of provincial venues.

"It sounded like a terrible idea to me," Loomis says. "But I loved playing with James, so I was like, OK, we might as well try it. And as soon as we got on the road together, it was just great."

The Capitol Diner referenced in the title is, according to Wee Trio lore, a real establishment outside Harrisburg, Pa., where they forged their esprit de corps while figuring out the capitals of all 50 states on a map printed on paper placemats.

There is, in fact, a great deal of Wee Trio lore for a band this young, and the guys warn that the stories they tell between songs may contain elements of poetic license.

Joking aside, these are three serious musicians who believe they've found a vehicle for creative growth that's as true to the jazz tradition as it is to their freewheeling tastes. On the new album they're now recording, Westfall plays keyboards and glockenspiel along with vibes, and Schonig has a keyboard too. They're working these into their live sets as well, experimenting with new layers of texture.

But they intend to keep it legible, for a fundamental reason: "It's hard to rock out when things get complex," Westfall says.

And though their work shows intact commitment to the exploration and improvisation of jazz, they promise more rock, not less.

"Oh, yeah," says Schonig. "We rock a lot."

"We did, and we do, continue to intend to rock," Loomis says, laughing.

They conclude in unison: "Oh, yeah." - The Boston Globe

"Capitol Diner Vol. 1"

"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 makeup—vibes with a rhythm section—doesn'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 yanks—hard. 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.

- All About Jazz

"Downbeat Review of Capitol Diner, Vol. 1"

“The Wee Trio often veers from the expected...questioning the rules of jazz orthodoxy. They keep the music substantive and riddled with direction surprises. Definitely a group to watch. � - Peter Margasak Downbea - Downbeat

"It Took a Village..."

Jazz vibraphonist James Westfall didn't much care for the food, weather, attitudes and expenses encountered during a two-year New York residency.

"I was getting fed up with New York," he recalled this week. "It's fine meeting jerks once or twice a day, but after a while it builds up and gets to you. I'd catch myself saying smart-ass one-liners to people, and that's really not my personality. Everyone was struggling. It was a rat race, a little too cutthroat for me."

He's now happily resettled in New Orleans, where he studied jazz and launched his professional career. But one important New York tie remains: The Wee Trio, which Westfall formed with bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig, neighbors in Brooklyn.

The trio's debut CD, "Capitol Diner Vol. 1," boasts a repertoire of instrumentals ranging from a dreamy reimagining of Nirvana's "About a Girl" to Thelonious Monk's "Wee See" to a bevy of original compositions.

Loomis and Schonig join Westfall in New Orleans this week for two gigs and a recording session. The Wee Trio performs a free show on Friday, Sept. 26 at noon at the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park Visitors Center in the French Quarter, followed by two sets Sunday, Sept. 28 at Snug Harbor. They'll also record their second Wee Trio album at Piety Street Studio.

Growing up in Texas, Westfall, 27, studied classical percussion and piano, then jazz piano. He fused jazz piano with classical percussion on a hand-me-down middle school vibraphone restored by his grandfather. Westfall also soaked in his grandfather's recordings of Lionel Hampton and Cal Tjader.

Many of his peers at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts aspired to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. But during a recruiting trip to the high school, University of New Orleans music professor and jazz saxophonist Ed Petersen touted the economic benefits of UNO's scholarship program.

"The East Coast schools are so expensive," Westfall said. "Doing the math, it worked out better to go to UNO."

During his junior year there, he auditioned for the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, then based at the University of Southern California. The audition required him to play Herbie Hancock's "The Sorcerer" and Wayne Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum" while both Hancock and Shorter looked on as judges. He was accepted, so left UNO and headed West.

"It was intimidating," Westfall said. "But I felt like I should take the opportunity while it was there."

He completed the two-year program and returned to New Orleans in spring 2005. He joined Harold Battiste's Next Generation, and realized how uncommon the vibraphone is in New Orleans jazz.

"Louis Armstrong never had a vibraphone in his band," Westfall said. "It's a tougher instrument (to play) in New Orleans. I have to create my own history."

The disruption of Hurricane Katrina motivated him to take a crack at New York, where he fell in with fellow New Orleans expatriates in Brooklyn, including guitarist Dave Mooney, drummer Simon Lott and pianist Jesse McBride, a former high school classmate. He and McBride perpetuated the Next Generation project during a weekly Sunday night gig at Sweet Rhythms, showcasing the modern New Orleans jazz compositions of Harold Battiste, James Black and Ellis Marsalis.

Westfall didn't realize that Loomis, an in-demand jazz bassist, and Schonig, a drummer whose credits range from rock bands to Broadway shows, lived across the street until guitarist Jesse Lewis, another former New Orleanian, made the connection.

Westfall rolled his vibraphone across Brooklyn's 23rd Street and discovered an immediate musical simpatico with Loomis and Schonig. Westfall half-jokingly suggested they form the Kurt Cobain Legacy Band, a twist on the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band. He went so far as to write jazz arrangements of Nirvana songs.

His new bandmates checked his enthusiasm: "They joke that one Nirvana song per record or set is the limit."

"About a Girl" opens "Capitol Diner Vol. 1," with Westfall's vibraphone filling in for Cobain's voice and melody. In addition to material by Westfall and Loomis, the album includes an instrumental cover of singer-songwriter Sufjan Steven's "Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)" and "There Is No Greater Love" by Isham Jones.

Despite the promise of the Wee Trio, quality of life issues convinced Westfall to return to New Orleans. He had already applied to Habitat for Humanity's Musicians Village in the Upper 9th Ward. His application passed the first rounds of screening, but full-time New Orleans residency was required for approval. So in 2007, he moved into an Uptown apartment, where he still lives while his house is completed.

The Musicians Village "helped sweeten the deal to move back to New Orleans. The whole idea of a community surrounded by musicians and, with the Ellis Marsalis Center, a bunch of musicians revolving around a musical arts center . . . it seems like the only thing of its kind in the world. And I know half my neighbors already."

Locally, Westfall gigs most Tuesdays with Jesse McBride's Next Generation at Snug Harbor. But the Wee Trio is his main focus. The trio recently logged a California tour, and will make a run across the Northeast later this fall.

By basing himself here, Westfall rediscovered a groove that was missing in the Big Apple.

"In New York, jazz has progressed to being more art instead of its original intention, which was to make people dance. It's turned into head games with odd meters. It's like doing a geometry problem sometimes; you forget why you're making music.

"There's an intangible quality in New Orleans music that other music doesn't have. It still has to make something inside of you dance."


Featuring: Vibraphonist James Westfall, bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig

When: Sunday, 8 and 10 p.m.

Where: Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchmen St., 504.949.0696.

Tickets: $15 at the door.

What else: The Wee Trio performs a free show today at noon at the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park Visitors Center, 916 N. Peters St., 504.589.4841.

To hear and see a video and music from the Wee Trio's "Capitol Diner Vol. 1, " go to - New Orleans Times Picayune

"Selected Press"

The Critics Sound Off On
THE WEE TRIO & Capitol Diner Vol. 1

“The Wee Trio often veers from the expected...questioning the rules of jazz orthodoxy. They keep the music substantive and riddled with direction surprises.
Definitely a group to watch. � - Downbeat

“a winning debut� “as true to the jazz tradition as it is to their freewheeling tastes.�
– The Boston Globe

“One of the year’s most riveting albums . . .� – The Patriot Ledger

“an immediate musical simpatico� – The New Orleans Times Picayune

“How exciting, you might ask, can a vibes/bass/drum trio be? Well listen to these three and you’ll find out.� – The Buffalo News

“largely entertaining� – The Hartford Courant

“the trio puts forth a compelling case that they are the ambassadors of the genre’s future.� – The Saratogian

“With James Westfall's vibes in the forefront, the group has a fresh sound, and bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig flow like the tides. Wee's sound is not wee, it's huge� – The San Francisco Chronicle

“the Wee Trio have found a unique slant, not only in their vibes/bass/drums instrumentation but in their lyrical songwriting and flowing interaction.�
– The Philly Daily News

“Bulging with even more muscular jazz chops than the Bad Plus but displaying more earthbound taste than the late, lamented E.S.T., the Brooklyn-based Wee Trio makes a larger than wee splash on its debut.� – The Boston Herald

“Joining the Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and the Leviathan Brothers on the national scene, Brooklyn’s The Wee Trio are stirring up jazz you don’t have to be old to enjoy, Bring a teen." –

“The Wee Trio is capable of a full, powerfull sound, streams of furiously articulated lines and fills� –

“Intriguing combination of which to my knowledge there’s no peer in jazz, or any other kind of music� “The Trio traverses over jazz, pop, grunge, and anything else that gives them a vehicle for pursuing richly intense, vibe-led, acoustic trio music.�

“’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.� “grabs the listener by the lapels and yanks-hard.�–

“Mixing their jazz outlook with their punk ethos and some Zappa undertones, they craft a nice set of punchy new jazz. With an eye and ear for the offbeat, this crew has a knack for turning life’s lemons into musical lemonade.�– Midwest Record Recap


- The Media sounds off....


Capitol Diner, Vol. 1 -- 2008
Capitol Diner, Vol. 2, Animal Style, 2010




“Refreshing...intelligent, highly interactive tracks . . . “ –JazzTimes

A jazz-rock synthesis that goes beyond anything accomplished by the Bad Plus or Medeski, Martin and Wood" - San Francisco Chronicle

Dan, James and Jared formed an unlikely union; taking a circuitous route from all corners of the country to land in Brooklyn. By chance they ended up living across the street from one another. One day Jared and Dan spotted James rolling his vibes down the street and a new super-trio was born. After successful, well-received tours across the US, and excited by the chemistry and simpatico of the group, they rushed back to Brooklyn and immediately went into the studio, recording their debut CD, Capitol Diner, Vol.1 in one four hour session. The rest is history…

“’Lightning in a bottle’” is an excellent metaphor for The Wee Trio......”
“grabs the listener by the lapels and yanks - hard.”–

Capitol Diner Vol. 1 won huge international acclaim, being named in the Top Ten CDs of ’08 by The San Francisco Chronicle, Boston’s Patriot Ledger and All About Jazz. The band also became ‘bi-coastal’, with James returning to the New Orleans to pioneer the post-Katrina Musicians’ Village. The group toured extensively, playing across the US at venues and festivals such as Snug Harbor, Jazz at the Bistro, the Harrisburg Jazz Festival, Rochester’s MCC Jazz Festival and the Jazz Bakery. 2010 saw the release of Capitol Diner, Vol. 2: Animal Style, a record of these travels.

“Definitely a group to watch.....” – Downbeat

“Intriguing combination of which to my knowledge there’s no peer in jazz, or any other kind of music” -