11 October 2008

Under the Radar: Happy Apple

Happy Apple

Where to begin?

If pressed to describe them in two sentences or less to someone who had never heard of them, I would call Happy Apple a band that fuses the avant-garde style of Air with a punk sensibility. But, like most abbreviated descriptions, this does not do the group justice. Comprised of saxophonist Michael Lewis, bassist Eric Fratzke, and drummer David King (of The Bad Plus), Happy Apple is an exciting band that does not deserve the unfortunate "side project" designation.

On Youth Oriented, the trio's fifth album (and first on a major label), the group presents ten originals which expand the boundaries of jazz while allowing plenty of room for individual and group improvisation. Typical of their approach is Lewis' "Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans," a 5/4 tune with a subdued melody. After dispensing with the head, Lewis begins soloing, but, as Fratzke puts it,
We're not just the drummer and the bassist backing the big bad-ass soloist. We strive as a group to communicate as a single entity, not just laying back until it's time to solo.
King pushes and pulls on the beat with his frenetic drumming under Lewis, while Fratzke holds everything together.
Whereas Happy Apple kept things light and subtle on "Grass Stains," the boys lay it on thick on "Salmon Jump Suite." Lewis gives the opening salvo forcefully, and Fratzke and King join him in a rollicking melody, mixing atonal phrases with bluesy Ayleresque blues riffs. The effect is jarring, it is as if the Stooges played jazz. Fratzke weilds his bass like Les Claypool, hammering on an electric bass with a guitar pick for extra emphasis. Underlying this is King, who stays just ahead of the beat despite pounding on the kit. The song is over in an exhilarating three minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Lewis, Fratzke, and King are kindred spirits; exploring rhythms and sounds of multiple genres while pushing the outer regions of tonality in a captivating manner. They keep things fresh and exciting on "Youth Oriented," and are, in the words of Ellington, beyond category.

Track listing: Youth Oriented; Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans; The Landfill Planetarium; Salmon Jump Suit; Drama Section; The Treetops of a Bad Neighborhood; It Will Be; Creme de Menthe Quasar; Youth Oriented
Personnel: Michael Lewis, saxophone; Erik Fratzke, bass, guitar; Dave King, drums

1 comment:

Ted said...

What an album! I especially love the cover, which mocks a Britney Spears cover to an album that was released a couple years earlier. The groove at the beginning of the first track just settles you right in. I also especially like "It Will Be."