I don't know what niche this trio occupies back home in the Twin Cities, but in Chicago it fits neatly between the hell-for-leather expressionism of Ken Vandermark's quintet and the nuanced musings of mainstream journeymen like saxist Jim Gailoretto and guitarist John McLean. On Happy Apple's second and most recent album, Part of the Solution Problem (No Alternative), drummer David King, saxist Michael Lewis, and bass guitarist Erik Fratzke offer up a lot of variety and the skill to control it: they can run from mournful lullabies to big-energy romps, but they always sound like the same band. On emotive passages, Lewis's tenor and soprano drip with the jazz equivalent of blue-eyed soul--cavernous low notes and a yearning upper register--which makes his forays into screaming multiphonics and guttural sheets of sound more surprising and thus more effective. King, with whom Lewis founded Happy Apple three years ago, has all the requisite technique and then some, using the drum set's colors with notable flair, but I could do with fewer passages where he and Fratzke mutter in the spotlight. Such self-consciously spacey playing seems to be part and parcel of the repertoire for twenty- and thirtysomething bands like Happy Apple and Medeski Martin & Wood as they explore diverse influences from the last 40 years, including free jazz, fusion, world music, and noise. Nonetheless I prefer Lewis's sections of unaccompanied extended technique, King's textured tone poetry on the slow pieces, and Happy Apple's ability to swing like Sosa on the hard 'n' heavy stuff. This gig is the trio's Chicago debut. Friday, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Karen Kopacz.