CD Review: The Apophonics – On Air

The Apophonics - On Air
(Weight of Wax WOW 05. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

The three musicians who are The Apophonics first played together in the eight-piece John Butcher Group at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November 2008. The trio - with Gino Robair, John Edwards and Butcher himself - came to fruition three years later with a handful of performances in Europe. On Air is their début CD, recorded in May 2012.

Butcher has kindly provided me with some details to flesh out the sparse information printed on the CD’s sleeve. He explains that a fast section for soprano sax during the closing minutes was planned, but otherwise the three improvisations are completely spontaneous. It is evident that there is going to be drama and excitement from the outset.

Fires Were Set ebbs and flows, with intricate individual work that merges into bursts of collective zest. Butcher is astonishing. A heavyweight saxophonist with many years’ experience at the highest level, his range of expression includes fluttering trills, split notes and overtones, squeezed chords and spat kisses. The 36 minutes of this opening track pass very quickly.

I first saw Edwards in 1989 with the group Pointy Birds. He was already a superb bass (and cello) player with tremendous spirit, and has since become a giant of the European improv scene. In this recording, he makes a telling contribution, but is uncharacteristically restrained and occasionally overpowered by his colleagues.

Robair’s input is particularly interesting. In addition to drumsticks, he employs small motorised devices to “energise” his drums, cymbals and tam-tam, and with a synthesizer also on board, the sound factory is enormous. The beautiful reproduction ensures that loud free-for-alls and whispered nuances are clearly heard. Met By Moonlight fairly shudders with the industrial noises of a whining lathe and a screeching circular saw, while the mellow, marimba-like tones on London Melodies are indeed produced by a real marimba.

For once, the frustration of not being able to see what’s going on is outweighed by the vastness of the aural landscape. There are genuine surprises throughout. Just when you think you’re listening to a low drone by Edwards, his bass comes in. Elsewhere, there are soft, rhythmic burblings, akin to Pharoah Sanders’ old “trick” in which his horn continues to play after he has removed it from his mouth. Mysteries abound, even with the knowledge that there is no overdubbing.

It will be fascinating to unravel the sonic enigmas and witness this creativity in person. The last words come from Butcher: “...this is a situation where a “band” can keep it fresh, [and] hopefully continue that feeling of exploration as it plays more and more”.

The first London concert by The Apophonics is at Café Oto on Wednesday 27 November. (TICKETS)

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