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 saxophonist, Erik Lawrence, instead of a pianist, and a bassist, 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: