Honey Ear Trio: Swivel

For their sophomore effort, arriving five years after the deliciously irreverent Steampunk Serenade, Honey Ear Trio underwent what could have been a crucial change but turned out not to be. Bassist and electronics maven Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller remain the rhythmic core, but at the top there’s a new saxophonist, Jeff Lederer, replacing founding member Erik Lawrence. Lederer, who leads Brooklyn Blowhards and joined HET in 2013, bears little tonal or stylistic resemblance to his predecessor, but he fully shares the commitment to unanticipated revelations and experimental zeal that is the trio’s guiding principle. Trying to nail down this combo would only be an exercise in frustration, and you can thank Lederer for continuing to keep it that way.

If Honey Ear Trio was trying to make their affection for the audacious clear, placing “Arby” as the lead track certainly accomplishes that goal quickly. A blast of fuzzy heaviosity evoking early Black Sabbath gives way soon enough to a burly Lederer sax line. But less than a minute in, all of that disappears as suddenly as it arrived, a flutter of whimsical improv in its place. The thud returns, next broken up by a Miller solo, and so on till the final cymbal crash.

That’s just track one, and there’s nothing else remotely like it. “Lullaby”-one of several tracks featuring guest cornetist Kirk Knuffke, who brings another dimension entirely to the music-floats on air, crystalline and dulcet, as does the gossamer “Silent Stairs.” But “Squeaky Toy” is nearly anarchic, and “Speak Eddie” comes within an inch of seriously swinging, if only the musicians weren’t bent on circumventing expectation. Thankfully, that’s exactly what they had in mind.