The first band at the 2007 EJF I saw was Happy Apple. Led by drummer Dave King – his other band The Bad Plus had played the previous evening (and both bands would play together the following night, as Bad Apple) – this was a saxophone trio, with Erik Fratzke on electric bass and Michael Lewis on tenor saxophone. The first set was good, but the second was excellent – they caught fire. They were quite off the wall – free but rhythmic, the bass being pretty steady, the sax freaky and the drums quirky. At times they seemed positively Ornette-like (which I learned later was quite appropriate).
Fratzke played the electric bass posing as if he were in a rock band – maybe there is something about the way one holds the instrument that just makes one pose (and whilst one can pose with an electric bass, I couldn’t help thinking that acoustic bass is much much cooler).
Lewis was very animated – leaping up and down, practically to his knees, blowing all the while; and he blowing up and down the dots, too. It was generally quite powerful, though on the softer numbers, he brought a touch of beauty.
But the centre of the band was definitely King. He held the mike, made all the announcements (and kept up a bit of banter between the tunes, telling anecdotes which were as weird and wacky as one might have expected – for instance, about the glee the band felt when they received a royalties statement showing they had sold a single copy of a CD in North Korea…), and drove the music. Playing somewhere between jazz and rock – he didn’t really swing much that evening – he was continually inventive, finding new ways of keeping the beat going.
The band were on the border between jazz and rock – though the bass was definitely more jazz, and the sax was way out there. The tunes didn’t have a rock feel. Some of the quieter tunes sounded rather like material from King’s Bad Plus colleague Reid Anderson (and I really can’t recommend The Vastness of Space highly enough) – perhaps King has absorbed some of Anderson’s style by osmosis; or perhaps they are in a band together because they think the same way. Whatever, it works – there were some lovely melodies hidden within the freedom and anarchy.