Happy Apple: Youth Oriented

Happy Apple
Youth Oriented
Universal/Nato Bear

Through their rockist artwork, ironically titled tunes, and general disregard for jazz purity and stuffiness, Happy Apple have managed to carry the day with indie rockers and funkateers whose jazz appreciation might not otherwise go beyond the theme from Taxi. So if you're that skeptical jazzbo who has unreasonably left the local trio to hipsters of a different stripe, now is the time to repent. I mean, you really should hear this album. It's so good that I will now happily lower myself to pullquote harlotry: "Lovely! Inventive! Already penciled in for next year's Top Ten list! Huzzah!"

The sax-bass-and-drums lineup employed by Happy Apple remains rare, despite the inspiring trio work of Sonny Rollins and other worthy spotlight hogs. It's a scantily clad format without all of the harmonic resources a piano, guitar, or extra horns can provide. In the past, Happy Apple could be faulted for trying to fill the instrumentation's built-in space with--to borrow a phrase from Emperor Joseph II and Paul Westerberg--"too many notes." But on Youth Oriented, the group adroitly balances invigorating, note-loaded squawkers such as "Salmon Jump Suit" with airy meditations such as "Drama Section." In between is stuff like "The Landfill Planetarium," on which bassist Erik Fratzke moves to guitar and saxophonist Michael Lewis plays upright bass. It starts as a choogling rocker (Georgia Satellites?), becomes reminiscent of the late-'80s-era Bill Frisell Quartet (drummer David King's visceral but melodic drumming often recalls that group's Joey Baron), and resolves with a mellotron-led berceuse. Elsewhere, I sense a careful Albert Ayler listening session, a dog-eared Eric Dolphy songbook, and the fruits of a lot of Happy Apple shows that I now wish I'd been better about attending.

The album's nine originals--all three members are smart composers--initially draw you in with a mood or a groove (future Volkswagen commercial: the cool, is-it-live-or-is-it-looped "The Treetops of a Bad Neighborhood"). But after five listens or so, the wagging melodies start to really wiggle their way into your noggin--and not just the sax lines, but Fratzke's warm ostinatos and King's boom-boom-thrack hooks. And that's just five listens. Imagine the 27th.

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