Minneapolis improv jazz trio Happy Apple released its seventh record, Happy Apple Back On Top, on Tuesday. Last night was the first of three CD-release shows this weekend, and though it will be hard for the band to outperform itself at the Saturday and Sunday night gigs, it wouldn't be unheard of if they did. One of the best things about seeing this group is that you never expect those inspired moments to occur quite as frequently as they do.
In the band's eleven years, the lineup of its players and the pace of their playing has morphed, but the last several years have proven that the current trio is a force to be reckoned with. On its face, standing room only for an avant-garde jazz trio seems unlikely. But it happens just about every time Happy Apple plays the Artists' Quarter. The group draws a mixed crowd; there are lots of teenagers and twentysomething hipsters from the artsy crowd, but there are also thirtysomethings, fortysomethings, and older fans sprinkled in. Having seen this band live numerous times over the years, I was actually surprised at how many thirty-plusses there were in last night's crowd.
The music is highly emotive. Last night, the band opened with "The Broad Side of the Silent Barn," a new, unrecorded song with a fast bass line, muted brushes on the drums, and soft sax. The setlist continued with most of the tunes off the new record, including "The New Bison," the turbo-charged "1996 A.D.," and my personal favorite from Happy Apple Back On Top, "Very Small Rock."
But there's more to a Happy Apple show than the music. In his introduction for the band last night, Davis, the AQ's doorman, called it "the most entertaining group in jazz." Hard to argue with that. I've sometimes wondered if some of the crowd comes just for the tongue-in-cheek comedy of drummer Dave King, whose witty banter between songs offers a welcome breather both for sax player Mike Lewis and audiences still reeling from their latest exploratory journey.
The funniest, and definitely the most surreal, part of the evening came after the set break, when King asked his father to model the band's new T-shirt, which he did—while dancing across the stage. Apparently a self-effacing sense of humor runs in the family.
My companion to this show was sketching during the first set—a common occurrence at these shows, as the music is inspirational. It's complicated music that seems fully improvisational—and there is improvisation—but the skeletons of these songs are very carefully composed, and often melodic. No matter how out there the tunes venture, Happy Apple's fans eat up their brand of jazz, screaming for every song.
Happy Apple performs again tonight and tomorrow nights at the Artists' Quarter.
The Broad Side of the Silent Barn
The New Bison
Very Small Rock
Crème de Menthe Quasar
Calgon for Hetfield
Coordinators of the Gate Control
Rise! Marc Anthony
Hence the Turtleneck
New Things at New Hope
Koala Bear Wearing a T-Shirt with Your Corporate Logo
Most Popular to Succeed
Feeling Good Is Good Enough