Honey Ear Trio Stuns at Constellation


Jeff Lederer, Allison Miller and Rene Hart are the Honey Ear Trio. The group performed at Constellation in Chicago on Aug. 5.

(Photo: Courtesy of the artists)

On Aug. 5 at the cozy experimental venue Constellation, about 40 fans gathered close to the stage for two intensely entertaining sets that marked the Chicago debut for the Honey Ear Trio.

Expectations were high among fans of adventurous improv as this show served as preview for the band’s forthcoming album Swivel, and it was only the 10th show by the current lineup.

The trio is co-led by drummer Allison Miller, bassist Rene Hart and saxophonist Jeff Lederer (who replaced Erik Lawrence, the reedist on the trio’s 2011 debut, Steampunk Serenade). This lineup has played together sporadically since spring of 2013, and their performance at Constellation was a showcase for their close rapport and deep sense of exploration.

Despite being heavily inspired by the traditional jazz saxophone trio, the Honey Ear Trio has a distinctively 21st-century sound, incorporating tasteful electronics into their mixture of intricate compositions and frenzied improvising.

Hart’s set-up included a looper, a modulator and a few other effects. Miller attached a plastic tube to her kit, occasionally blowing into it so she could alter the pitch of her drums.

Such gadgets and electronics can seem merely gimmicky if presented in the wrong context, but the Honey Ear Trio subtly used these elements to add new dimensions to their already breathtaking playing.

Some bassists might be tempted to go overboard with the effects Hart had, but his playing still sounded natural and never over-processed. In fact, he tone was often simple and sweet, offering a dramatic contrast to Lederer’s aggressive “sheets of sound,” which were, at times, reminiscent of Coltrane and Ayler.

While there isn’t a clear leader to this trio, Lederer commanded attention with his bird-like altissimo and caustic shredding. He certainly took control, yet still left his bandmates plenty of sonic space in which to operate.

Miller’s mechanical, machine-gun-like technique—full of intent and soul—provided not only a rhythmic backdrop but a melodic one as well. Over the past decade, Miller compositional chops have evolved; a highlight of the Constellation show was the tune “Lullaby For Cookie,” from her band Boom Tic Boom’s acclaimed 2016 album, Otis Was A Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family).

Miller, Lederer and Hart are all supremely talented musicians, but the Honey Ear Trio’s enlightened sound is the product of another intangible factor: the interplay of personalities—the way these three get along both on and off the bandstand. Miller’s stage banter reflected this, saying, “Jazz is a community—not an industry.”

The Constellation crowd saw ample evidence of the musicians’ chemistry, demonstrated with playful body language, lots of laughing and, overall, a goofy looseness. Many concerts of “outside” jazz are marred by a seriousness that isolates the artists from the audience, but the Honey Ear Trio’s welcoming warmness was enthusiastically reciprocated by the concertgoers. Indeed, the small group of attendees lucky enough to catch this show won’t forget it anytime soon.

The Honey Ear Trio—which plays Quinn’s in Beacon, New York, on Oct. 3— is a band not to be missed.

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Samara Joy
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