When it comes to outlets for his creativity, bassist Tim Lefebvre is never lacking in options. The veteran musician has appeared on over 150 recordings, playing alongside such dissimilar artists as American rock band Toto to David Bowie, most notably on the latter’s celebrated 2016 album “Blackstar.”
Still, it’s much easier for Lefebvre to explore his love of making improvisational music when he is a band leader, and not a relatively new member of an already established band. So while he already keeps busy with a steady gig as the bassist for blues rockers the Tedeschi Trucks Band, he felt it was worth a shot to come together with three musician friends to form Whose Hat Is This?
Lefebvre has only been a member of Trucks for four years, but when he met the members of Whose Hat Is This? through that engagement – saxophonist Kebbi Williams and drummers JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell play for Trucks as well – it was an instant creative chemistry he had seldom felt before. It’s one that’s allowed him to take a gamble on a scheduled night off to experiment with the three musicians who would soon be a much bigger part of his artistic life.
“We didn’t know each other before joining Tedeschi Trucks Band, but we all enjoyed playing with each other, and we found that we had a mutual love for improvising,” he said. “I have friends from all of my previous (gigs), so I have a friend who owns a jazz club in Germany called the A-Trane, and that led to me booking a gig for (Whose Hat) and going for it. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out great.”
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The members all bring experience from a variety of genres and artists. Williams has worked with Outkast, Johnson has performed with John Mayer, and Greenwell has worked with the late Col. Bruce Hampton.
“I knew we had chemistry, just from playing in Trucks so much, and that also gave me a feel for how it may go since there is a good deal of improvisation involved when playing with Trucks as well,” Lefebvre said. “With WHIT, the improv is a little no holds barred, so between that philosophy to playing and the chemistry we all share, it’s been really fun.”
While WHIT finds itself slotted into the genre of acid jazz often when it comes to describing the band’s sound, it’s truly a case of trying to categorize something that evolves each night. Electronica, funk, every sound is grist for the mill when it comes to these particular musicians, who are always on the lookout for inspiration before taking the stage to perform.
They’ll come to Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre Dec. 7 as part of a six-date tour.
“We’re all the co-leaders of the band, so we’re all cool with the idea of ‘just plug in and go,’ ” Lefebvre said. “We don’t talk about anything before playing; there’s no preconceived anything, we just figure out how long our set should (last) and go. Whatever everyone is feeling like is whatever we end up being on a given night.
“Luckily, Kebbi is very thematic with his saxophone playing. Every ideal launching point (for each song) has a different theme, and that is due mostly to him.”
The musician continues, “Since we’re totally improvising, and that’s one of the things I was brought up on, having this group as an outlet is just kind of important to me. Also, people really seem to enjoy (our music), which is great. It’s not your typical free jazz band; it’s actually more punk rock, just not in a typical way. It’s definitely jazz, but definitely not traditional.”
The bassist hopes the concert-goers at his shows enjoy the music, but he’s honest when he says he hopes people show up to begin with. He said he knows he and his musician compadres aren’t household names, and an improv jam band with only an 8-month-old self-titled debut album to its credit is a hard sell. While Raleigh is the smallest market on the tour, which will take the band from New York to Atlanta, Lefebvre sees it as the band’s most interesting challenge.
“It’s a market I don’t know very well at all,” he said. “Although I do really like the city. We figured we would roll the dice, and just see if anyone would show up. I have a lot of friends there in the Triangle, musicians and professors at UNC-CH, things like that. I have people that I know will come, but you know, it’s really a roll of the dice. Raleigh has a reputation for being really supportive of jam bands, so while I’ve never played at the Lincoln Theatre, I’m really looking forward to it”
Finding a window for touring can be a challenge when Tedeschi Trucks occupies everyone’s time.
“And besides my work with TT, I stay pretty busy with projects I may be working on with other artists,” Lefebvre said. “I actually would love to focus on this band as my main side project for a little while; I do plenty of other stuff, but since I have quite a bit of time and energy invested into WHIT, as long as people keep responding to it, that is the idea. There’s been some really strong reactions to (our music), so it’s been really rewarding so far.”
Who: Whose Hat Is This?
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Info: LincolnTheatre.com or 919-821-4111