The Willie August Project was founded in the late 1990s by guitarist-composer Ben Siems and percussionist Jeremy Hauer. Siems had recently returned to Minnesota after attending Brown University and spending several years on the Atlantic Coast as a solo blues/folk musician. Though fresh out of Music Tech College in Minneapolis, Hauer already had nearly five years of jazz gigging under his belt.
Drawing inspiration from the postbop jazz of the 1960s and from the airy, meditative jazz associated with Germany's ECM record label, Siems and Hauer have created a distinctive modern jazz sound that revolves around their naturally melodic musical instincts and remarkable sensitivity to each other's playing. Upright bassist Scot Hornick rounds out the trio's sound beautifully, laying down powerful grooves and subtly punctuating the quietly compelling spaces created by the two principals.
With four Minnesota Music Awards nominations and a host of other local honors to their credit, The Willie August Project has steadily gained recognition as one of the premier groups in Minnesota's topnotch jazz scene. Their latest CD, SURRENDER TO THE WIND, released in early 2004, is now launching them onto a much broader stage. After spending over three month's in Minnesota's Jazz Top Fifty, the disc has been picked up by jazz radio stations from California to New York to Denmark. The group is now receiving invitations to perform throughout the U. S. and Canada, and beyond.
The unique sound of The Willie August Project was perhaps best summed up by jazz critic Larry Nai, writing for CADENCE magazine (an international review journal of jazz and blues): "The Willie August Project, so named for leader Ben Siems' grandfather, plays durable music that expertly straddles the line between easy groove and challenging absorption. ... 'Aspirations in Cobblestone' and the excerpt from 'Suite for a Dancer,' for instance, have an earthy feel that quiets the mind, and resonates both physically and mentally. Siems himself is a fountain of muted melody, with a masterful grasp of the guitaristic art of the octave. ... An off-the-beaten path release that makes one want to hear more." (CADENCE, vol. 30, no. 4, April, 2004).
All compositions by Ben Siems. Copyright 2003 Thunder Cliff Music, ASCAP.
Text copyright 2004 The Willie August Project