New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York are bona fide jazz capitals. You can add Minneapolis to that illustrious list, thanks to groups like Madhouse, The Bad Plus, and Happy Apple – that town’s non-traditional trio consisting of bassist Erik Fratzke, soprano-alto-tenor saxophonist/keyboardist Michael Lewis, and drummer David King – with Happy Apple Back on Top, the long-awaited follow up to their 2005 Sunnyside release, Peace Between Our Companies. On this eleven-track recording, their genre busting, take-no-prisoners approach to the “tradition” continues to change the shape of jazz in the twenty first century.
Think of Happy Apple as a hyper-band, created from the DNA of the Sonny Rollins Trio, Dreams, Tony Williams’s Lifetime, and the Police, and you’ll begin to comprehend how this towering triad, molds, shapes, constructs, and deconstructs jazz, rock, fusion, avant-garde, and Latin genres. “The New Bison,” is the midtempo opener awash with dark and lovely, industrial-style improvisations, followed by the rockish ostinato driven number, “Very Small Rock.” “1996 A.D” is perhaps the “freest” track on the date, with a spirited drum/sax dialogue, contrasted by the urban backbeats on “Rise! Marc Anthony” and the Dr. Dre grooved “Calgon for Hetfield.” “Lefse Los Cubanos,” shows that not even the Cuban clave remains unscathed from their transformative touch. “He’s Okay” is a twilight-toned ballad, and “Hence the Turtleneck” is a selection that gives the aural imagery of Pharaoh Sanders backed by Led Zeppelin on a slow drag!
In today’s age, when every type of musical genre, from “fusion” to “jam band” has been reduced to marketing clichés, it is a rare occasion to hear an ensemble like this Minneapolis trio. On Allmusic.com, Steve Leggett writes, “… [l]ed by Lewis’ amazingly lyrical tenor sax playing and solid melodies written by all three members, Happy Apple keeps out of the fusion trap by implying rock dynamics without actually surrendering to them, giving the group a fresh, bright, and totally unique sound. Things can get hot and searing, certainly, and there is no aversion to sonic and free jazz experimenting, but the band always retains a strong melodic center.”
Iconoclastic explorations have been par for the course for this trio ever since they burst on the scene in 1996. Named after a Fisher-Price toy, Happy Apple’s previous releases: Blown Shockwaves & Crash Flow (which featured Cully Swansen on upright bass and Anton Denner on saxophone and flute), Part of the Solution Problem, Body Popping, Moon Walking, Top Rocking, Please Refrain From Fronting, Youth Oriented, and Peace Between Our Companies, were released from 1997 to 2005.
Happy Apple has built a loyal and diverse fan base from their hometown, to Manhattan and France. The New York Times wrote that they are “one of the best new jazz groups,” while Down Beat hailed them as “intelligent, freewheeling fusion with rock energy.” Whatever side of the musical spectrum you come from, Happy Apple will radiate you with their bopish licks and byte-happy beats. Put another way, this trailblazing trio uses jazz improvisation to drive from the gritty downtown dance beats to the sonic suburbs of the New Thing!
Visit the artist’s website at happyapple.com