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.
Available through eMusic, iTunes, Bandcamp.