During a 2015 European tour with the blues-rock collective the Tedeschi Trucks Band, members of the group—including the ever-busy bassist Tim Lefebvre, the Grammy Award–winning saxophonist Kebbi Williams, and dual drumming monsters J. J. Johnson and Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell—booked an impromptu gig on an off night at the A-Trane jazz club in Berlin, Germany. Having previously played the venue with various outfits, Lefebvre reached out to the club a few weeks before their break and asked members of the Tedeschi Trucks Band if they’d want to throw an impromptu show together. “Tim asked us, ‘Would you guys be interested in putting together a quartet and just playing if I can get it to happen?’” Johnson relates to MD. “And of course, we were all on board to do that. We got there with zero expectations other than wanting to play music together. No arranged compositions. No discussions or calling standards. We just did it. We were booked to play two sets, and it went amazingly well.”
The group recorded the sets, capturing their spontaneous, genre-bending flow and later releasing it on their 2017 self-titled debut, Whose Hat Is This? And this November 16 the band unleashed their second full-length outing, Everything’s OK, which was recorded in 2017 at the 8×10 club in Baltimore, Maryland. Throughout the sets of improvised tunes on Everything’s OK, listeners can hear a potpourri of influences, including jazz, electronica, hip-hop, dub, and reggae. And joining Whose Hat to stir the gumbo that night was the Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist, producer, and educator Kokayi, who jumped right into the improvisational fray on vocals.
“There are no rules, and we’re forced to get up there and just try to create anything,” Greenwell says about the group’s ethos. “A lot of [the dub influence] is Tim’s experience in the EDM and electronica world. But I think you’re hearing the natural inclinations that are strong with each individual player. Like the dub stuff, that’s a big part of who Tim is as a bass player and what he gravitates to. And since the instrumentation is so small—just the two drums, bass, sax, and vocals—that stuff is very apparent. But we’re not going for anything. We’re just trying to create some chaos. Hopefully out of that chaos we’ll catch on to something and weave together an experience for someone.”
Although each member of the TTB has become familiar with one another’s playing on the road and in the studio, the drumming duo found some surprising insights while playing in the Whose Hat setting. “I think you actually hear more of who we really are within this unit, because there are no barriers,” Johnson says. “With [TTB], it’s mostly based around arrangements and lyric-driven songs. With this, the lid is off, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know these guys on a whole other level because there’s no cap on anything.”
“You start seeing how each other’s creative mind really works,” Greenwell adds. “It’s liberating, but it’s daunting and terrifying at the same time. But to see how everyone’s mindd work, it helps us in our other group as a rhythm section. This little exercise that we started doing that’s now snowballed into a band and two records—and all this fun and musical liberation—it’s a great exercise for any musician because it’s helping us in the TTB. I feel we’ve gotten better as a band now that we’ve explored and stretched.”
J. J. Johnson plays Gretsch drums, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Remo heads, and LP percussion, and he uses Reunion Blues cases and DW hardware. Tyler Greenwell plays Gretsch drums, Zildjian cymbals, and LP percussion and uses Vic Firth sticks and Remo heads.