• courtesy of Wee Trio
  • Wee Trio

The vibraphone-led Wee Trio aren’t pioneers when it comes to hijacking postbop fundamentals with ideas gleaned from pop music, but over the last few years they’ve proven themselves to be impressive adepts at the game. As the group’s lead melodic voice, vibraphonist James Westfall has maintained and distilled a crisp and concise improvisational flair, and that sharpness has benefitted greatly from the dynamic, shape-shifting grooves meted out by bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Jared Schonig; driven by that rhythmic engine, he has little choice but to be fleet. Considering how much time the group spends on the road—they’re back in Chicago this weekend, performing tonight and tomorrow at the Green Mill—it should come as little surprise that they’ve chosen to release a live album, and the new Live at the Bistro (Bionic) captures Wee Trio at its fluid, agile best.

Most of the album’s material is original, but they do include a version of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”—the trio’s Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective (2012) pays homage to the Thin White Duke—and the collection opens with a brisk take on the standard “Cherokee,” which you can check out below. In some ways, their “Cherokee” represents what the group is all about: There’s a moody, introspective introduction that quickly builds tension and pace, before a funky backbeat-driven groove sets up a hushed statement of the tune’s theme. From there Wee Trio put the piece through the ringer, perpetually accelerating and decelerating, deviating from the melody with sly quotations, changing the rhythmic thrust, clearing space for a drum solo, and returning to a quicksilver recapitulation. In jazz, tunes are often just raw material for extended improvisational performances, but Wee Trio are part of a new breed that doesn’t just serve up solos over the chord changes, but improvises—or at least deploys fresh-sounding arrangements that suggest the creation of structural shapes on the fly.


Today’s playlist:

Elvin Jones, And Then Again (Atlantic, Japan)
Various artists, Nicola Conte Presents Viagem 3 (Far Out)
Barry Harris Quintet, Newer Than New (Riverside/OJC)
Maria Bethânia, A Cena Muda (Universal, Brazil)
Itsnotyouitsme, Everybody’s Pain is Magnificent(New Amsterdam)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.