by Dan Lehner
Winter Jazzfest 2016 started off with a bang this year - or, more accurately, a series of bangs alongside wails, screams, drones, scrapes and other sonic intensities. Adam Schatz introduced one of the most audacious beginnings to a WJF in recent memory Wednesday night at Le Poisson Rouge, featuring one act long missed, one never before performed, and one scarcely heard in the states (Happy Apple, Colin Stetson/Bill Laswell duo and The Ex, respectively). All were united by their hard-edged energy, pan-punk aesthetics and questing improvisational spirit.
Happy Apple's last appearance at a Search and Restore co-production (and in fact, last appearance almost anywhere at all) was at the Undead Jazz festival 2010. As such, the return of one of the quintessential "punk jazz" trios of the new millennium was eagerly anticipated and the band more than delivered. As they always have, Happy Apple took a cue from seminal alt and indie rock bands like The Pixies in their sensitivity for dynamics, particularly through saxophonist Michael Lewis's near-limitless range of ideas. Lewis toggled through breathy whispers and frenzied runs, both as a soloist on tunes like "Hence the Turtleneck" and as part of the group dynamic of "Freelance Robotics". The trio remains great melody writers, perpetuating rhythmic ear worms through their standbys like "Rise! Marc Anthony" and staccato indie rock energy on new tunes like "Vermillion Nocturne" (proving themselves worthy of a "much-anticipated" label on a new potential release).