Minneapolis-based Happy Apple is big in the Midwestern United States and Europethe rest of the world, particularly other parts of America, is sadly still sleeping on the powerful jazz/rock/improv group. Featuring bassist Erik Fratzke, David King (who also handles percussion duties in Happy Apple cohorts and Columbia Records recording artists The Bad Plus) and Michael Lewis on saxophones, Happy Apple is currently celebrating the release of its sixth album, The Peace Between Our Companies.
The trio of Fratzke, King and Lewis combine freewheeling improvisation with highly stylized composition and rock 'n' roll-meets-jazz sensibilities. The eight tracks which make up The Peace range from driving punk-jazz to spacey, atmospheric electric relaxations, highlighting the underrated trio's range of talents.
The thirteen-minute "See Sun Spot Run"? is the centerpiece of this off-the-wall album. Clocking in at just over twelve minutes, this lengthy selection finds the band members mulling over idiosyncratic ideas within a thin, detached framework, a seemingly open-sounding and sparse arrangement that sounds rather free but is likely based on a more strict form.
"Lets Not Reflect"? is the jazziest selection on this record, a great example of the free bop influence on Happy Apple's sound. Featuring a laid back cross-stick pattern from King and thick bass chords from Fratzke, "Lets Not Reflect"? almost swings in its groovealmost.
Amazing transitions appear throughout "The Peace."? The dreamy introspection of "Ella by Nightlight,"? which features Lewis playing thoughtfully chosen lyrical melodies, is followed by the driving, rhythmic punk 'n' jazz of "Go (Base 13),"? a dramatic closer to The Peace Between Our Companies. And somehow these two completely opposite sounds don't seem to clash when they appear back to back on one albuminstead, they highlight the aforementioned breadth of Fratzke, King, and Lewis' skill.
There must be something in the Midwestern water system. Happy Apple seem to be vibing on the same idea that Thrill Jockey artists like Tortoise and Sam Prekop enjoy, or Rob Mazurek in his countless Chicago Underground projects, or even to some extent the musings of Ken Vandermark and his comrades.