The emerging, award-winning West Michigan band in the Artist Spotlight and featured for Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted tracks by Michigander, Aspen Jacobsen, The Fever Haze and more.
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The youngest member of the virtuosic, world music trio Whorled puts it most succinctly in describing what makes this emerging West Michigan act such a joy for musicians and listeners alike.
“A lot of potential is possible with that band because we all have different experiences and we’re all open to different things, as opposed to a straight-up bluegrass band or Irish band,” says fiddler Keala Venema, 19.
“I feel like the flexibility in our genre is what makes us pretty special and makes me excited to play with Whorled.”
Even though the instrumental trio won’t release its debut album until later this summer, Whorled already has made dynamic inroads in the region’s music scene, winning the first-ever battle of the bands staged by Grand Rapids’ The Stray Café in March and seriously turning heads everywhere they perform.
In addition to Hudsonville’s Keala (Ke) Venema, the multi-generational, multi-instrumental group features Belmont guitarist and didgeridoo player Thom Jayne, 63, and Venema’s mother and accordionist, Mariko, 46.
Their musical approaching covers a dizzying gamut of styles, from the Celtic influences where Jayne first met the Venemas during an Irish trad session hosted by Randy McLemore to bluegrass, classical music, African and Mediterranean stylings, and traditional Japanese strains.
For this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE, the trio debuted two new songs that will appear on their upcoming album – “Wind Over the Field” and “Seven.” View a video of a life performance here, and scroll down to listen to the tracks and the full radio show.
VIDEO: Whorled at Park Theatre in Holland
“I was like ‘Wow.’ I knew his talent right away,” Mariko recalls after playing with Jayne for the first time. “So we contacted each other and jammed. We found musical connection very easily.”
That connection came easily, but the long and meandering global journey to get there covered a lot of ground.
MUSICAL ROOTS IN JAPAN, AFRICA, EUROPE, UNITED STATES AND MORE
Jayne, a self-professed “tumbleweed,” lived in six different places in Europe and the United States by the time he was 20, and also spent seven years in Africa, but “kept coming back to Michigan.”
His early love of 1970s bands such as Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin was supplemented by world music textures and rhythms of all kinds inspired by his transatlantic travels.
A classically trained pianist, Mariko was born and raised in Osaka, Japan, moving to the United States in 2000. Eager to participate in area jam sessions, she first took up the melodica before turning to accordion in 2018.
Ke also began her musical instruction on piano, but her interest in playing the violin was piqued during Irish trad sessions. “I knew that was my main instrument,” she recalls.
“From there, I got into the bluegrass scene a little, found Michigan Academy of Folk Music and met Nate Roberts, my main instructor for everything music theory. That kindled my interest for jazz, and now I’m working toward gypsy jazz violin. I’m currently taking lessons from (fiddler) Grant Flick (of Full Cord).”
The combination of the three instrumentalists’ diverse backgrounds creates a singular experience.
“It has been a real pleasure to play with people who can cross over seamlessly between a rootsy-bluesy feel to classical, Celtic, bluegrass and other genres,” says Jayne, former frontman for Thom Jayne & The Nomads who recently retired as a Michigan State University faculty member in Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics.
“It’s a good musical chemistry full of surprises. When we get together, we ad lib all the time and when we hit on something that we like – such as blending Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ into a rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime,’ that is the elixir that makes playing in this group so fun.”
Jayne says the name Whorled is fitting because the musicians are “swirling together musical tradition in creative ways.”
Ke says fans have called it a “road trip for your ears,” giving audiences globe-spanning, genre-bending performances.
Those audiences will have plenty of opportunities to experience that starting today (June 17) when Whorled plays Saugatuck Center for the Arts’ “Jump into Summer” event at 5 p.m., opening for alt-folk band The Accidentals.
They’ll return to The Stray in Grand Rapids on June 24, performing with dancers from Deos Ballet. Whorled also plays the East Grand Rapids concert series at Collins Park on July 11, opens for Crossbow for the Tuesday Evening Music Club series at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park on July 12, and performs a benefit for Ukraine in Rockford on July 16. Find more shows on their website at whorledband.com.
This week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which showcases regional music at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – also spotlighted tracks by Aspen Jacobsen, May Erlewine, West Bound Situation and Earth Radio (the musicians’ picks by Whorled), Silent Spirit, FlyLiteGemini, Michigander (with Manchester Orchestra), Neal Francis, The Hacky Turtles and The Fever Haze. Check out the radio show podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (6/17/22)
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