The Bad Plus, Happy Apple & Bad Apple at Edinburgh Jazz Festival. July 2007.

Another dose of Dave King; indeed, Dave King in three different incarnations. The first set of Bad Apple was played by the Bad Plus . Only three numbers – over half an hour or so – and it was interesting to compare them with Happy Apple the previous night. The tunes were slightly differently constructed (sure, it’s hard to tell on three numbers – but I have seen this band a lot, and it quickly came back to me); and there was a piano. Ethan Iverson – a regular visitor to Edinburgh, with or without King and Anderson – plays quite sparse piano: he likes Monk (and last year he played a set of Monk tunes), and often his input into the music is just a few chords here and there.

I believe Reid Anderson is the real star of the Bad Plus: his bass playing gives the band both solidity and flexibility – he allows Iverson and King to play around more. And he writes beautiful tunes which build in the intensity.

Then there was another, short set from Happy Apple. Their last tune was excellent – building and building to a climax, Lewis wailing on sax against the solid electric bass and King’s insistent drums. Wonderful stuff.

After the break, all five musicians came back on as Bad Apple. (Three of the five sport shaven heads; I couldn’t help feeling they should have been called Bald Apple. Lewis and Anderson seemed resolutely hirsute.) Before the concert, the Canadian couple sitting next to me had asked me what to expect, since they knew neither band; I had replied that it would probably wacky and a bit “Ornette-ish”. So I felt very clever when King announced that Bad Apple were going to play a set comprised solely of numbers by Ornette Coleman.

King explained that the only other time his two trios had come together was at a celebration of Coleman’s music to mark his birthday a while back, and that Coleman had been a big influence on all the members of both bands. That had certainly been apparent in the Happy Apple gig.

The music they played spanned Coleman’s career, including tunes from his collaboration with Pat Metheny, Song X. Fratzke played electric guitar throughout the concert, leaving Anderson to take the bass duties. Lewis switched to alto sax (Coleman’s main instrument; I was relieved that none of the band chose to emulate Coleman by trying to play trumpet or violin).

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It was very good: exciting, sometimes wild and manic, sometimes gentler. King surprised me with his more swinging style. The freedom was very much in evidence, but like Coleman’s Prime Time bands, they were rather funky too.

With Anderson centre stage, he and Lewis worked up a strong relationship – Lewis was as energetic as before, bobbing around as he blew his saxophone. Fratzke and Iverson seemed rather sidelined – they made key contributions, with some beautiful guitar and piano, but the trio of Anderson, Lewis and King seemed to dominate.

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