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Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade

Troy Collins By

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Building on an established legacy, Honey Ear Trio updates the time honored acoustic instrumentation of the classic saxophone trio with a subtle use of electronics on their debut Steampunk Serenade. Saxophonist Erik Lawrence, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller draw upon their diverse experiences in an array of popular music forms (rock, soul, folk) to inform an accessible yet adventurous series of modern jazz variations.

Challenging the conventions of structure and form, they treat time signatures, tempos and rhythmic accents with the same easygoing flair as melody, harmony and texture. The trio's close-knit interplay is intensified by a longstanding rapport gleaned as members of one another's projects; each artist's personal history influences the date's wide-ranging aesthetic to varying degrees, with Lawrence and Hart splitting writing duties for most of the session's original tunes.

Expanding the trio's palette with an arsenal of horns, Lawrence employs a variety of saxophones, from soprano to baritone. His role as longstanding member of Levon Helm's band can be heard in the bluesy outpourings of "Matter Of Time" while his pivotal sideman gigs with Sonny Sharrock are readily apparent in the Albert Ayler-esque squalls he elicits on "Olney 60/30," Miller's sole compositional contribution to the date—a thunderous Sabbath-inflected rocker underscored by Hart's droning, distorted bass lines.

Offering far more than just straight ahead accompaniment, Hart's occasional augmentation of his upright bass with loops and delays adds atmosphere to tunes like "Window Seat Nostalgia." In more conventional settings his traditional chops come into play, such as the swinging patterns that fuel Lisa Parrott's Thelonious Monkish "Six Nettes," whereas his more pop-oriented experiences suffuse the waltz-time melody of the title track with bittersweet harmony.

A rising presence on the scene, Miller boasts an assortment of professional relationships, ranging from pop superstars like Ani DiFranco and Natalie Merchant to avant-garde jazz legends like Marty Ehrlich and Myra Melford. A versatile performer with an original approach for every situation, her crisp, quicksilver volleys and spry rhythm changes on "Luminesque" reveals her impeccable timing and dramatic physicality. The nuanced call-and-response she shares with Lawrence on the visceral "Beautiful Nightmare" calls upon a slightly different skill set—that of a keen listener and fearless explorer.

Ranging from a surreal reading of "Over The Rainbow," complete with backwards looped melody lines, to the subtly amplified ardor of "High Water," Honey Ear Trio expertly details the various avenues available to a modern electro-acoustic saxophone trio. A tasteful and dynamic program executed by a group of seasoned performers, Steampunk Serenade perfectly exemplifies the "past meets future" ethos espoused by its title.

Track Listing: Matter Of Time; Olney 60/30; Steampunk Serenade; Whistle Stop; High Water; Six Nettes; Over The Rainbow; Luminesque; Beautiful Nightmare; Weight Of Action; Eyjafjallajokull (Icelandic Volcano Hymn); Collide-O-Scope; Window Seat Nostalgia.

Personnel: Erik Lawrence: tenor, baritone, alto and soprano saxophones; Rene Hart: acoustic bass, electronics/looping; Allison Miller: drums, percussion.

Title: Steampunk Serenade | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Foxhaven Records

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