James Westfall stands as the New Orleans connection to the Wee Trio; the vibraphonist, a Houston native, came to the Crescent City to attend the University of New Orleans and spent some 14 years here on the jazz scene. Thus this special group, with bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig, returns quite often to renew the tie. (The band hits the Snug Harbor stage on Saturday, November 19.)
As the title Wee + 3 indicates, this time out the talented threesome invited some equally gifted musicians to join them, including New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton (with whom both Westfall and Schonig have previously performed), guitarist Nir Felder and pianist Fabian Almazan. Those into modern jazz get that these guys are superb instrumentalists.
Each of the members of the Wee Trio takes pen to hand for an album full of very individualist compositions. This plus the addition of the guest artists brings an ever-changing quality to the recording. The virtuosity of Felder stuns on the opening cut by Loomis, then Westfall’s cleverly named “Titan Up” jumps out of the box with Almazan’s piano and Westfall’s vibes bobbing and weaving. Credit drummer Schonig for the drive.
Fans of Payton will dig his blowing throughout, from his playful swagger to swing on Loomis’ “Sabotage” to the beauty of his soft blowing and subtle slurs on the wonderful “No Justice.”
Westfall’s New Orleans residency definitely shows on his original, “Belle Femme de Voodoo.” It boasts a Latin-tinged second line rhythm that is laid down by the drums with the rest of the trio joining the parade led by Payton’s trumpet.
Wee + 3 holds many provocative moments, though even at its most intense the music remains accessible. Talent will do that. The name the Wee Trio might sound diminutive but the musicianship is giant.