Contemporary jazz trio Happy Apple has been called "jazz punk" by a few critics, and while that is a snappy and memorable little label (and occasionally even somewhat accurate), it hardly comes close to capturing the sonic feel of this adventurous Minneapolis combo, who practice a kind of melodic bop fusion that can turn from ear assault to stunningly beautiful in the wink of an eye. Comprised of sax man Michael Lewis, whose tenor lines show a full appreciation of the instrument's storied lineage, drummer David King, who is as likely to bang on an assortment of found objects as he is to man a trap kit, and electric bassist Erik Fratzke, whose warm, dark tone makes the trio sound at times like King Crimson backing up John Coltrane, Happy Apple attacks everything with a slightly skewed sense of humor and a wonderfully offhand compositional approach that continually delights and surprises, all with an unerring devotion to melody, which means that no matter how far afield they may seem to get, everything is firmly grounded. Peace Between Our Companies is the group's sixth album (the second for France's Universal Music label), and it follows the template of all the others, which is hardly a bad thing, combining high octane jazz romps with intricate micro-journeys that seem to slip between the molecules into another world altogether, all with passages of unstoppable beauty, especially when Lewis takes his tenor into meditative territory like he does on "Let's Not Perfect." The tracks here are impeccably arranged, allowing Happy Apple to turn on a dime, giving everything a little bit of a prog rock feel, complete with hard rock dynamics when King and Fratzke really kick in, but this is first and foremost a jazz ensemble, and even when cuts like the opener, "Starchild Cranium," a thundering slice of funk, seem to propel the trio toward power rock, the composition shifts down into ballad territory in the middle before amping back up to full thunder and ending in giggles and laughter. "Dojo Fantastique" is a delightfully fractured but melodic bebop suite, while the epic "See Sun Spot Run" places the apocalypse front and center (thanks, in part, to Lewis' spooky alto sax -- he plays tenor elsewhere on the album) before easing into a kind of exhausted, redemptive calm. Fiercely independent, fiery, fun, endlessly creative and effortlessly melodic, Happy Apple are the perfect jazz ensemble for the 21st century, keeping one foot pointed forward toward the stars and the other knowingly planted in the rich jazz tradition of improvisation around structure. These guys are the real thing. Long may the Apple roll.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett