At Work: Whose Hat Is This?
photo by Michael Weintrob
Since Whose Hat Is This? creates fully improvised music, it makes perfect sense that the group came together through a spontaneous booking.
In November 2015, while the Tedeschi Trucks Band was gigging in Europe, bassist Tim Lefebvre asked the TTB rhythm section of Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, along with the group’s tenor sax player Kebbi Williams, if they would be interested in performing as a quartet at the A-Trane jazz club in Berlin.
“I knew the owner of the club because I had played there several times with other groups, so I asked if we could do a gig,” Lefebvre recalls. “We had no tunes but we figured, ‘Let’s go improvise and see what happens.’”
What happened was something quite marvelous. The musicians—who had previously shared some moments before TTB soundchecks but otherwise had never performed together as a four-piece—really let things fly.
“Kebbi is super compelling as a player,” Lefebvre raves. “Even though we were improvising, he’s very thematic with it rhythmically and harmonically, so you feel like you’re composing on the spot. And Falcon and J.J. are amazing drummers. The audience responded because there was so much energy and weird slinky electronic grooves over mad saxophone tapers. So we decided to keep working on it.”
They began picking up occasional gigs when their schedules proved accommodating, including a return to the A-Trane in March 2017, which doubled as a record release show. The venue had multitracked the quartet’s initial appearance 16 months earlier, and the group culled from this performance for their eponymous debut.
In mid-November, Ropeadope will issue the band’s second recording, Everything’s OK, which draws on a live set from Baltimore’s 8×10 club on Dec. 6, 2017.
For that gig, the four musicians were joined by MC and vocalist Kokayi, who had performed an improvised set with Lefebvre and keyboard player Jason Lindner many years earlier in London and remained in touch with the bassist.
“You always want there to be an evolution and a new angle, and we achieved it, especially by adding Kokayi. That guy’s a genius,” Lefebvre offers. “That night at the 8×10 was all improvisation, but we were finding song structures in the middle of it because of Kokayi. It just fell together in a really cool way. Everybody was listening hard and the grooves were cool. That’s another case where they were recording the gig with Pro Tools and we listened back and were like, ‘Holy shit!’
“All we’re trying to do is not botch up the vibe, which is surprisingly easy,” adds Lefebvre, who notes that Kokayi will appear on all the group’s upcoming dates through December. “You can’t think selfishly. You just have to add spices that make it more interesting and make it evolve without being too repetitive. We’re going out there every night, starting from scratch and creating a whole new thing in the moment.”
This article originally appears in the October/November 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.