Wednesday, May 04, 2011

CD Review: Honey Ear Trio - Steampunk Serenade

Honey Ear Trio
Steampunk Serenade

The trio of Allison Miller (drums), Erik Lawrence (saxophones) and Rene Hart (bass) came together literally through the work of nature. When a volcano in Iceland erupted in April 2010, it prevented Miller (one of the busiest drummer in all music, not just jazz) from getting to a tour in Europe. She stitched some silver lining to those ash covered clouds and got her trio mates together for several weeks of practicing that lead up to these recordings. They have all worked together with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and keyboardist John Medeski. Individually, Miller has played with Marty Ehrlich, Natalie Merchant and Brandi Carlile; Hart has played bass with Branford Marsalis; and Lawrence has worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to Sonny Sharrock.

All that name dropping isn't excessive in this case since it reveals how wide the trio's scope of sound can be, and that is clear in the 13 tracks on Steampunk Serenade. It opens with "Matter of Time," a slow, big tenor ballad that evokes Sonny Rollins' trio work, or maybe even his predecessors like Ben Webster, thanks to Lawrence's big tone. Immediately after that, Miller's "Olney 60/30" takes the mood in a more frenetic direction. Hart's electronics in this track give his double-stops more of a distorted attack, while Lawrence - now on alto - seems at the brink of hysteria, prodded to Miller's skittery playing. This close-to-but-never-totally-boiling-over feeling works perfectly.

Miller gets that wild pulse going again in the coda of "Whistle Stop" but the group explores other avenues too. The title track begins with some dub-like loops before it settles into a vamp with Miller playing on the rims and constantly turning the downbeat on its ear. Hart's electronics and loops add strange, fourth member feelings to many tracks, the most unique being their take on "Over the Rainbow," where the melody actually moves in reverse until it comes to the bridge. By switching to baritone sax, Lawrence does his part to make this one of the most warped - and successful - facelifts of a song that gets ravaged too often. One of the tracks written by someone outside the trio comes from saxophonist Lisa Parrott, who has played with Miller and with DIVA. Her "Six Nettes" throws the band into a straight ahead, almost bop bag with a catchy call-and-response line that recalls Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross." True to their methods, though, this ain't no ordinary bop and the trio pulls and twists the tempo as proof.

Lawrence pays homage to the volcano that made this session possible with "Eyjafjallajokull (Icelandic Volcano Hymn)" which sounds as reverant as its title, with the alto taking on more of a dusty quality. When looking at the consistant quality of this work, it was good to make such a gesture.


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