Multi-instrumentalist and composer Peter Apfelbaum's It Is Written is his first recording with the East Coast version of his large Hieroglyphics ensemble. There's no denying the deep musicianship of the leader and his band, but what's most striking here is Apfelbaum's genre-mashing ambition as he blends jazz with a host of world music influences to form a powerfully grooving sound that's utterly benign, even beatific: large ensemble, horn-heavy music that's tailor-made for the jamband set, yet free of the more cloying elements that often dog that genre.
Apfelbaum plays tenor sax, clarinet, flute, and harmonium (the wheezing, accordion-like sound of this petite organ can't be missed on the Arabic-flavored "Rainbow Sign and the brief album opener, "Prelude ), but his real instrument is the Hieroglyphics ensemble. Guitars, bass, drums, and percussion create roiling, polyrhythmic grooves, often with a West African flavorand above these stews of stacked rhythm, emphatic horn ensembles punch out staccato phrases. There are solosJosh Roseman's bluesy trombone break dazzles on the album's epic centerpiece, "Apparition/Projectiles, in its Hendrix-riffed rock-stomp sectionbut this music's not really about solo statements.
While the above description might suggest It Is Written is more about sound than song, these are memorable compositions. "Song of the Signs is built around a sweet acoustic guitar vamp played by Jai Uttal; the leader plays some lovely tenor here, as well as overdubbed clarinet and flute in the ensembles, and it's all pure mellow honey. Former Phish leader and jamband superstar Trey Anastasio contributes a guitar solo that's more Jerry Garcia than standard Anastasio, underlining the song's similarity to the Grateful Dead's "Fire on the Mountain but the grooving flute and layered bata drums are pure Apfelbaum.
One can write whole paragraphs about the aforementioned "Apparition/Projectiles, a fourteen-minute-plus multipart extravaganza with plenty of call and response from the horns and the rhythm section locking into polyrhythmic pattern after polyrhythmic pattern, constantly adjusting to the piece's soloists and sectionswhen it's not changing the time signature completely. (Rhythmically, this is not unlike the Juju music of King Sunny Adé, albeit with much less percussion.) Yet there's nothing jarring about the temporal transitions; they're just climatic changes on a vibrant ocean of groove. Meanwhile the horns state the tune's various motifs and themesuntil the release of testifying horn polyphony that pulls the song from the heavy-guitar rock section to its final tag. This is a song worth hearing repeatedly just to appreciate the complexity of its construction.
The intro to "Shotgun Bouquet features Apfelbaum on soulful gospel piano. Actually, the whole tune's got something of a gospel feelnot that many gospel songs have sections in eleven. Drummer Dafnis Prieto and percussionist Cyro Baptista make that eleven and later a polyrhythmic, accented 4/4 swing, though, propelling fine solos by Apfelbaum (on tenor) and Jeff Cressman (on trombone).
This is Apfelbaum's first large-ensemble recording in thirteen years, and it's very much worth the wait. Let's hope, however, that we get another one like this in much less time.