Honey Ear Trio
(2011, Foxhaven Records)
During a recent radio interview, world-renowned jazz festival and concert promoter George Wein said that when he receives releases with all original compositions, he doesn’t listen to them. Really? How perplexing that someone who professes to revere artistry would pay short shrift to artists who also compose. And the members of Honey Ear Trio—saxophonist Erik Lawrence (Levon Helm Band), bassist Rene Hart (James Hunter, Julian Priester), and drummer Allison Miller (Natalie Merchant, Dr. Lonnie Smith)—are definitely skilled composers as well as artists. After being brought together for a month by fate (the volcanic eruption in Iceland last year), the three New York friends laid down 13 tracks; all but one are originals (so maybe Wein would listen at least to that tune).
The mix of casual banter on “Matter of Time” with the throw-down of “Olney 60/30” exemplifies Honey Ear’s masterful interplay and cut-to-the-quick, focused playing. The seductively swank “High Water,” the clamorous “Beautiful Nightmare,” and the maudlin “Window Seat Nostalgia” feature Hudson Valley fixture Lawrence’s air-dried sound. Groovy is the title tune, with electronics by Hart, who also employs looping during his solo on the standard in question, “Over the Rainbow,” a song that never seems to wear around the edges. Miller keeps her eyes on the prizes before her, sensing where to fill in the nooks and crannies of a piece. She’s so good. A recommendation to Wein: Hold standards up to the light, but don’t block the light with them—or you may miss Steampunk Serenade