Our New York City-based Northwest neighbors, The Westerlies, return to Seattle for their second annual Westerlies Fest. The brass quartet created the festival to "engage students and audiences in Seattle and give back to the city that raised them." This week, the New Cool previews the festival performances, special guests, and the new Westerlies album, Wherein Lies the Good, released today.
Trumpeters Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands, and trombonists Willem de Koch and Andy Clausen were just in town to perform and visit family over the holidays. They were good enough to stop by the KNKX studios to play a few songs and talk about their upcoming second release.
Mulherkar says Wherein Lies the Good takes it's name from the album's throughline — these are all songs that lie deep in the hearts of these musicians. Some are polished gems from years past, others are fresh compositions. The centerpiece is the quartet's 14-minute arrangement of the title song, written by Seattle pianist Robin Holcomb.
De Koch told us Holcomb's knack for weaving "a lot of different American musical traditions, from folk music to more contemporary classical, really resonated with what we do as a quartet."
Robin Holcomb will be one of five special guests at three performances during Westerlies Fest, a collection of performers also close to the Westerlies' hearts. The brass quartet will share the stages each night —double bills the first two nights, then a more "variety show" feeling on the third night. The festival wraps up with a full day of fun with the quartet teaching, discussing their music, and ending with a 4 p.m. performance at Seattle Pacific University's Nickerson Studios on Feb. 9.
I asked the Westerlies to tell us about these festival friends, and trumpeter Riley Mulherkar was more than happy to oblige.
Celisse, Feb. 6, The Royal Room: "We first worked with her jamming on tunes in a Brooklyn bar a little over a year ago, and since then Celisse has skyrocketed to well-deserved success, recording a new album (with some funky horn lines by a certain brass quartet...), jamming with Jon Batiste on The Late Show, and appearing as a featured soloist with Lizzo on Saturday Night Live just a few weeks ago. But more importantly than all of that, she is just a truly, deeply wonderful human being — so we thought, who better to introduce to our Seattle community and kick off the Fest!"
Robin Holcomb, Feb. 7, The Chapel Performance Space: "What better way to celebrate the new record than to celebrate the genius of Robin Holcomb! The title track on our CD is a transcription of her solo piano piece, Wherein Lies the Good, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of her canon of work. She has been one of our biggest musical inspirations since we formed as a band, so getting to share a bill with her is a dream come true."
Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye, Feb. 8, Town Hall: "Sarah and Phil are two of my best friends and favorite artists. They are an integral part of our New York family, and a big part of the concept of this festival is bring together our communities in New York and in Seattle. For those who know their work, there's nothing I can say that you don't already know! But for those who might be unfamiliar with them or with spoken-word poetry, we invite you to join us for this special night — they will melt your heart and make you feel better about the world."
Troy Osaki, Feb. 8, Town Hall: "Troy is an old friend of ours, and is a celebrated spoken-word poet in Seattle. Troy was a big part of the success of our inaugural Westerlies Fest, and is a force for good in Seattle as an artist, community organizer, and attorney. He is the real deal!"
The Westerlies also are hosting a free community "JAM-boree" on Feb. 9. Beginng at noon with a workshop on improvisation, musicians of all skill levels and non-musicians alike are welcome to watch and learn. DJ Westerlies is what I call their 2 p.m. listening party, as the band breaks down some of their favorite recordings from the jazz world and beyond. An open rehearsal follows at 3 p.m., giving the audience an inside look at the group's creative process. A full performance from the band follows at 4 p.m.
Westerlies Fest's core element actually begins before the concerts. The band is dedicated to music education, the musicians will be visiting local schools to perform, teach and collaborate with students.
Check out the full Westerlies Fest line up online and make your plans for the fun next weekend. You'll hear a studio session version of a song from their new album on The New Cool this Saturday. Here's the video from the Westerlies full four-song performance last December.
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.