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The best kept secret in music


"Honey Ear Trio - Steampunk Serenade (2011)"

Posted by S. Victor Aaron

Listening to Allison Miller’s superb CD from last year Boom Tic Boom, I appreciated how it covered a lot of ground within advanced modern jazz, helped along by such sympathetic supporting players in this piano jazz trio. But that album still left me wondering where this ace drummer, composer and bandleader was going to head next. Perhaps Miller herself didn’t even know, that is, until a spewing volcano in Iceland scuttled her plans for a six-week European tour last year. All that time suddenly available inspired her to assemble a trio of a different kind, one with a sax player, Erik Lawrence, instead of a pianist, and a bass player, Rene Hart, who dabbles in scratchy electronic noises. And thus, the Honey Ear Trio was born.

The result of these unscheduled weeks where the three got to rehearse and hone their chemistry is this album that went on sale last March, called Steampunk Serenade. Like Boom Tic Boom, Miller’s sophisticated drumming technique pervades the whole record, but also like last year’s record, Steampunk Serenade reflects the musical personalities of the other participants just as well. Miller found kindred souls in Lawrence and Hart, whose careers have similarly started with a solid jazz foundation but have wandered into other styles that have informed their performing personalities. Lawrence has worked with artists ranging from Chico Hamilton to Buddy Miles, Allen Toussaint and Levon Helm. Hart has performed with Branford Marsalis and Julian Priester, as well as James Hunter and Bilal.

With this kind of plot, you just know how the story will play out: unpredictably.

The album begins with a surprise in that the crew plays a slow ballad (“Matter Of Time”) in the straight jazz fashion, played quite well mind you, but still. Things start to get real interesting on the following track “Olney 60/30? (video below): Miller’s drums gets a little nasty, Lawrence’s sax gets a little Ornette-ish and Hart’s acoustic bass is fuzzed up, thanks to his gadgeting. Together, they settle into a rock groove that’s played with Lawrence still in whack jazz mode and before long the song goes off in several directions at once. It’s a cross-genre delight. The title cut is better still, with Hart’s electronics playing a more prominent role and Miller finding her place alongside it, inventing shuffling rhythms while Lawrence and Hart’s bass play out a melody that almost seems apart from what Miller is doing until you listen closely.

“Whistle Stop” involves some back and forth between Hart and Lawrence as Miller metes out a rhythm that’s full of nifty little adornments. “Six Nettes” runs in three or four gears, and Lawrence’s fat tone goes a long way here. And then there’s the trillionth cover of “Over The Rainbow” but fear not, because the Honey Ear Trio knows how to turn it into something experimental: Hart plays the melody backwards on his bass and through the wonders of technology, it echoes back in reverse, emitting a weirdly beautiful sound that befits the mood of the tune. Miller goes a bit calypso in a crisp way on “Luminesque” and seemingly conjures up another new rhythm or two for “Beautiful Nightmare.” There’s more, with the common denominator among all the cuts being the cohesiveness of this band; they listen as much as they play.

Borne out of volcanic ashes from the Arctic, so to speak, the Honey Ear Trio is about three highly talented players who were destined by an act of God to get together and make this record.

Steampunk Serenade is by Foxhaven Records. For more info on and music samples from this talented, adventurous trio, go explore these links: - All About Jazz

"Honey Ear Trio - Steampunk Serenade (Foxhaven Records, 2011) ****"

By Paul Acquaro

The Steampunk literary genre essentially imagines a present informed by Victorian sensibilities and driven by steam technology. Imagine though, just for a moment, another alternate present in which popular music is not shaped by lowest common denominator tastes and gobs of derivative schmear. What do you hear? For me, the top forty slots are pretty much dominated by groups like the Honey Ear Trio.

The trio, sax, drum and bass, with some electronics and effects for added dimension, runs the gamut of styles and influences as they assemble their own vision for today's music. They can be convincingly tender, as on the retelling of 'Over the Rainbow' and quite tough, like in the inspired rock tune 'Olney 60/30'. Dark pop sensibilities shade the tunes, especially the title tune, and all of the arrangements embrace free improvisation. The songs are carefully arranged but minimally constructed, leaving the players, like saxophonist Erik Lawrence, the room to develop some excellent solos.

Bassist Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller provide thick melodic and harmonic counterpoint. The rhythm section compliments and contrasts the horn as this tight knit trio works together delightfully to create tunes that draw on free jazz, bebop, and rock. 'Six Netted' is not that unlike something from Ornette Coleman's catalog and the aforementioned 'Over the Rainbow' recalls ephemeral Frisell like textures.

The majestic yet forlorn 'Eyjafjallajokull (Icelandic Volcano Hymn)' is an ode to the eruption that snarled air traffic throughout Europe and linguistically challenged American newscasters, and it's a highlight. The drums rumble, the bass has gravitas and the sax is majestic. It is a theme that evokes sweeping panoramas of desolate windswept expanses and smoldering craters.

'Steampunk Seranade', the debut album of this New York based trio is an accessible effort that successfully draws on genres past and present as well as American and European idioms to create its own vision of modern jazz. Recommended to all who enjoy any kind of music at all. - Free Jazz

"Honey Ear Trio Steampunk Serenade"

By Bill Milkowski

Saxophonist Erik Lawrence, a member of Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra and a longtime horn section player in Levon Helm’s band, joins bassist Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller on this daring cooperative outing. Their remarkable chemistry in this extremely elastic acoustic trio setting is further enhanced by Hart’s creative use of electronics.

The delicate rubato opener, “Matter of Time,” could easily have been called “Matter of No Time”: Miller sets the tone with her freewheeling instincts beneath Lawrence’s robust tenor lines, while Hart plays sparsely and contrapuntally on bass. “Olney 60/30” opens with a burst of urgent free jazz, with Lawrence blowing forcefully in the high register as Miller bashes behind him. The piece settles into hard-rockish mode with double-bassist Hart kicking on a distortion pedal and emulating Hugh Hopper as Miller delivers big backbeats with muscular authority.

On the title track, bassist Hart experiments with looping technology on his upright and radical dub effects on Miller’s drums. The near-telepathic trio strikes a gentle accord on the spacious “High Water,” then collectively swaggers through the playfully Monk-like swinger “Six Nettles,” which undergoes a number of surprising tempo changes. The buoyant 5/4 number “Luminesque” showcases Lawrence’s and Hart’s skills as melodic improvisers.

The bracing sax-drums improv duet “Beautiful Nightmare” travels from second-line groove to clave-fueled jam to pure freedom. Lawrence switches to baritone sax for an improv duet with bassist Hart on “Collide-O-Scope.” The saxophonist also soars on soprano over the droning textures created by Hart’s looped bowing on the ominous soundscape “Window Seat Nostalgia.” Their highly impressionistic take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the lone cover on this collection of inventive originals, provides the one Paul Motian Trio moment on this startling debut. - Jazz Times

"Honey Ear Trio's latest a must for jazz lovers"


ARTIST: Honey Ear Trio

ALBUM: Steampunk Serenade

(Foxhaven Records)

There hasn’t been anything startlingly new in jazz for years (no, smooth jazz doesn’t count) no shot heard around the world like Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” or John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” that just leaves you speechless.

“Steampunk Serenade” certainly comes close to that ideal. A gathering of likeminded musicians, the Honey Ear Trio breaks new ground for the sax-based trio format and move bravely forward.

Though Honey Ear Trio saxophonist extraordinaire Erik Lawrence is based in New York City, you could surely call Woodstock his second home, as you’ll find him playing with the legendary Levon Helm most Saturday nights at the Midnight Ramble. Not surprisingly, along the way Lawrence has performed with musical giants like Bob Dylan, Allan Toussaint, David Bromberg, Aaron Neville, Buddy Miles and many more.

Drummer Allison Miller is often found in un-jazz like settings as well, playing with pop stars Brandi Carlile, Natalie Merchant and Ani DiFranco. Bassist Rene Hart is an in-demand session player who has played with Branford Marsalis and James Hunter and has appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show and “The Tonight Show.”

Though their careers have often gone in different diverse directions, the group’s members now return to the tradition, armed with lessons learned from elsewhere, applied to the forms of old and expanded upon.

This collection starts out with “Matter of Time”, as a warm and inviting sax soars over crisp the sharp rhythm section, which moves along with a free, at times merely implied tempo, and huge amounts of space.

Their deep, knowing interaction and uncanny chemistry is simply brilliant. It’s sonically stellar as well. This is the way modern jazz should sound — like you’re in the room and miles away at the same time. Lawrence’s way with melody and phrasing is world-class, Miller’s use of time — in and around it — is compelling and challenging. She often serves more as percussionist than drummer. Hart’s chops and skill is a given, but it’s his clever use of electronics that add so much to the mix. Intriguing, eerie sounds float around, in a way not done before.

The title track is inventively, intuitively produced; the anxious counter rhythms stir up a storm, prodding and taunting Lawrence to new heights. “Over the Rainbow” is an astounding reinvention of a song you would have thought didn’t need one. The mysterious haunting take has to be second only to Judy Garland’s original.

This is this an important, inspiring record. It’s about time.


David Malachowski is a guitarist, producer and freelance journalist living in Woodstock.The Freeman seeks CDs by local artists or artists appearing locally for review. Please send all CDs (please, no CD-Rs or demo CDs) to Daily Freeman c/o Preview, 79 Hurley Avenue, Kingston, N.Y. 12401. - Daily Freeman


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