Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Jazz lives! Innovation and beauty from Happy Apple.

I’ve got some outstanding modern jazz for you today. I put a Blues mix together for you last Friday. I enjoy the Blues, especially live, but Blues is kind of in a box, in my opinion. It has its dozen or so standard chord progressions and while there’s a lot you can do in Blues (compare Taj Mahal with Stevie Ray Vaughn), if you get too far away from the tradition, it becomes something else.

Jazz, on the other hand, is limitless. Improvisation and incorporation of new elements is part of Jazz’s very definition. This keeps Jazz forever young. The stuff guys are doing today is every bit as vibrant and exciting as Django Reinhardt experimenting with European folk music or Miles Davis finding new ways to use scales and modes.

Sit up straight, you punk.

You know, for the kids...

For example, give a listen to Happy Apple. These guys are a Jazz trio (saxophone, bass, drums) from Minneapolis, MN. They have a good sound and a great formula. Erik Fratzke on bass is an absolute rock. Even in their most complicated pieces he glues the sound together. More on that in a minute. Michael Lewis on saxophones is expressive and patient when laying down the themes, but displays an energetic free spirit when improvising. David King is an accomplished Jazz drummer who also plays with The Bad Plus (about whom I may also blog soon). He anchors songs with Fratzke and still has a free hand to color to the music.

If you’re going to explore Happy Apple, a good album to start with is 2003’s Youth Oriented.  I have pulled 4 of their compositions from this release onto my iPod. Check them out.

  • Youth Oriented – What a cool groove. The oozy bass line and relaxed drums back the theme appropriately, and as the song progresses they get more and more outside without ever losing the vibe.
  • Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans – Fratzke’s bass is a metronome, the axis around which this funky 5/4 song spins. Pay attention to King’s drum work. It’s hard to do because Lewis’ saxophone work is so dazzling.
  • Salmon Jump Suit – This is as frenetic as the title suggests. All three of them are playing their asses off in this song. From a less tight ensemble, this might sound chaotic. They make it sound like the musical equivalent of an Olympic skier rocketing down a mountain at the limits of control.
  • The Treetops of a Bad Neighborhood – I’m not sure what combination of time signatures they use to come up with this cycle of 11 beats (or 22) but it’s a beautiful song with wonderful flow for all its complicated rhythm.

You know, one other thing I love about Jazz is the song titles. I’m not sure why so many Jazz cats do it, but I suppose if your piece is entirely instrumental, why not call it “Fluffy Butterscotch Swing Set?”

I looked high and low for complete versions of these songs for you to hear, but I didn’t find them. There are several performances by these guys on YouTube, if you want to check them out. Happy Apple’s website is in mid-overhaul (though I don’t know how long it’s been that way), but go to their MySpace page.  They streams lots of their music and you can even buy songs directly from them there.

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April 21, 2009 - Posted by | Jazz

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