23 March 2010

Review: Animal Style

The Wee Trio
Lately I've spent a lot of time listening to piano trios, and have felt the need to break out of that rut (not that it's a terrible rut). So I started out with an admittedly small step: a vibes-bass-drum trio. The Wee Trio, a group of musical transplants who live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, will release their second album later this month, inspired by their interactions with California surfers and their introduction to the "Animal Style" burger from the legendary In-n-Out Burger.

Replacing the piano with vibes in a rhythm section is not done too much in jazz, but I like the concept. Since a vibist usually plays with, at most, four mallets (often only two), a vibe-led group is a bit more harmonically ambiguous. Dave Holland has used a vibraphonist in his quintet for years, and is one of the reasons I like that group so much.

The Wee Trio are an energetic group. The first full cut of the album, The Oracle, is a bit of a barnburner featuring a disjointed and syncopated melody which flows into an intense solo from vibist James Westfall, who wrote the tune. Drummer Jared Schonig shares Westfall's zeal for disjointed melodies, as evidenced on his tune White Out. Behind a sparse melodic statement from Westfall and bassist Dan Loomis, Schonig pushes the beat without revealing exactly where the one is, or any other beat for that manner. This dynamic nicely encapsulating the all-out "Animal Style" ethos of the surfers mentioned earlier, which inspires the band's work on this album.

Like Casey Benjamin of The Robert Glasper Experiment, the Wee Trio's James Westfall is a proponent of the vocoder, that baroque relic of early electronic music. Unfortunately, Westfall's use of antique electronics does not inspire the same amount of praise I gave to Benjamin. Something doesn't sound right to me when the vibraphone and vocoder are united, as they are on Snow Day and Pinball Number Count. But that does not mean there isn't plenty to love on this album. From the cool intensity of Avril the 14th to satisfying building up and release of tension in The Tunnel, this album reveals a band that is onto something, and I like where this is going.

Bonus Material: Jason Crane interviewed the Wee Trio in 2009 on The Jazz Session. Below, the Wee Trio cover Nirvana's About a Girl.

Track Listing: San Fernando Pt 1; The Oracle; White Out; Avril 14th; Wherever You Go, There You Are; The Mack is Back in Santa Monica; Snow Day; The Tunnel; Shepard; But Beautiful; Pin Ball Number Count; San Fernando Pt 2
Personnel: James Westfall, vibraphone, vocoder, mini-Korg; Dan Loomis, bass; Jared Schonig,drums

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