When I first moved to the Twin Cities, 11 years ago, the Artists’ Quarter housed the only semblance of life after 5 pm in Lowertown St. Paul (I had an apartment across from the Farmers’ Market). There was no smoking ban then, and no ventilation in the basement club in the McColl Building, yet I suffered through scorched eyes and choked lungs for any chance to catch Happy Apple. The trio still plays three or four weekends a year at the AQ (it moved several years ago to the basement beneath Great Waters Brewing) to overflowing crowds of college kids and unshaven thirtysomethings with fetishes for flannel and wool caps.
I now tip you to this review in today’s New York Times of Happy Apple’s set Tuesday at Joe’s Pub, in Lower Manhattan. Ben Ratliff, the Times reviewer, is a longtime follower of the band, so I’m a little amused his piece carries the tone of an introduction to the masses. Perhaps it’s a necessity — Apple Apple has defined avant garde jazz in the Twin Cities for close to a dozen years, yet even many jazz enthusiasts only know the band by name. Waves of attention have come from New York and France, and Happy Apple would likely have a larger profile in contemporary music (jazz and otherwise) if drummer Dave King (pictured, in this shot by Walker photographer Cameron Wittig) weren’t splitting his time in The Bad Plus (and eight other projects, at last count). The Walker presented Happy Apple and The Bad Plus in a 2005 tribute concert to Ornette Coleman.
I’ve been a little frustrated with an imbalance in Happy Apple’s recent music — songs have steered away from the more bombastic roundhouses to the soft jabs of melody and balladry — but in concert, there’s no more engaging, entertaining and ferocious band around, in any genre. And any time they’re at the AQ, I make it a point to park myself at the foot of the stage.