Peter Apfelbaum: It Is Written (2005)
Peter Apfelbaum writes music for everyone. And without pandering to anyone, he creates honest music that has wide appeal in some aspects but ultimately serves a smaller audience, simply because he fuses so many disparate elements together. Recorded over three days in September in 2004, It Is Written is an album of breadth, to say the least, that never loses its luster even after repeated listens.
Still under fifty, Apfelbaum has now recorded three albums with different formations of his Hieroglyphics Ensemble since he originally convened the group when he was seventeen in 1977. Full of vitality and often curiously contained without indulging in wholly unwieldy territory, his groups bridge various world folk musics with an avant jazz leaning, presented through an always moving orchestral construction with an unrelenting groove element. To put it more simply, it's music that feels positive and invigorating.
And while Apfelbaum plays a myriad of instruments (including tenor saxophone, flute, and harmonium), his composing and direction of the ensemble is his greatest gift here. He states that he writes from rhythms first, "like a drummer," which then warrant guitar and bass lines to weave in and out of them. In doing so he creates music that moves and shifts at all times, first and foremost over pure melody. And while "Apparition/Projectiles has many memorable passages, it is also the simplest example of this style of writing.
With the table set by a single measure of percussion, the bass and guitar slide in on top, emphasizing the established groove. "Apparition/Projectiles doesn't have an identifiable melody, but its fourteen minutes are filled with blustery horn passages shifting with the groove and reacting to their surroundings, whether the original lumbering groove, the spacey guitar-bed midsection, or the swirling horn outro. Numerous musicians take the fore, but none overstay their welcome; particularly notable is trombonist Natalie Cressman, who provides a lead voice while slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein darts in and around her.
Eventhough there is constant motion, everything here is compact. Horn passages are lush but brassy, with the bite the music requires. Some tracks also feature vocals added by Jai Uttal or Abdoulaye Diabate, which may be distressing for some, but their talents are fully utilized here, melding with the flow of the music rather than seeming like an obtuse adjunct. Diabate in particular makes quite an impression on the organic "Titiwa, moving up and down his vocal range with aplomb and conviction.
For those with open ears to music that traverses genres, It Is Written is a trip well worth taking, offering concise ensemble playing and a natural feel. Tracks like "Titiwa are worth a listen, because chances are you will enjoy it. And like a lot of great musicians operating on the fringes, Apfelbaum has been waiting way too long to release this album.
Track Listing: Prelude; Labile (Unfolding); Rainbow Sign; Apparition/Projectiles; Song of the Signs; Petroglyph Extension; Shotgun Bouquet; It Is Written; Titiwa.
Personnel: Peter Apfelbaum: piano, organ, tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute, harmonium, melodica, qarqabas, bata drums; Peck Allmond: tenor saxophone; Josh Roseman: trombone; Jessica Jones: tenor saxophone; Tony Jones: tenor saxophone; Norbert Stachel: bass saxophone; Craig Handy: alto saxophone; Steven Bernstein: slide trumpet; Natalie Cressman: trombone; Jeff Cressman: trombone; Charles Burnham: violin; Juliana Cressman: violin; David Phelps: guitar; Viva De Concini: guitar; Will Bernard: guitar; Trey Anastasio: electric guitar; Patrice Blanchard: bass; John Shifflett: acoustic bass; Abdoulaye Diabate: vocal; Jai Uttal: vocal, harmonium; Dafnis Prieto: caxixi; Cyro Baptista: pandeiro, caxixi, bells; Josh Jones: bata drums; David Frazier: bata drums; Aaron Johnston: drums; Deszon X. Claiborne: drums.