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The Apophonics: On Air

John Eyles By

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The Apophonics: On Air

For those who do not recognise the group name, let's introduce The Apophonics—on saxophones, from London, England, John Butcher... on bass, also from London, England, John Edwards... and, on energised surfaces and synth, from San Francisco, California, drummer Gino Robair. The more savvy reader will have spotted that On Air is released on Weight of Wax, Butcher's own record label, so the presence of the saxophonist will be no surprise. The membership of the trio is no surprise either, as Butcher has collaborated separately with Robair and Edwards since 1997. After the three first played together in Butcher's eight-piece group that recorded somethingtobesaid (Weight of Wax, 2009) at the 2008 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the trio formed in 2011 and played concerts in France and Belgium.

The group name is related to the title of the Butcher-Robair duo album, Apophenia (Rastacan, 2011). The word "apophenia" describes the human tendency to sees patterns which do not really exist in random data, for instance seeing recognisable shapes in cloud formations or ink blots. "Apophonia" is not a real word but it would describe a similar tendency to hear patterns in random sounds. So, "The Apophonics" would seem to be a subtly humorous, self-mocking name. Good on them.

As its title implies, On Air was recorded to be broadcast on radio, specifically on BBC Radio 3's "Jazz on 3" programme. The studio recording was made in May 2012 and is BBC quality, with every detail and nuance captured perfectly. The music consists of three improvisations, an extended—thirty-six minute—piece, plus another of eight minutes, and the third just under five. All three tracks demonstrate why the musicians decided to become a trio; they display the kind of empathy and understanding that is only born of long exposure to each other and years of playing together, the kind that gives a convincing impression of telepathy at work.

Unsurprisingly, the sounds of Butcher's saxophones are the main focus of the album; he roams far and wide, testing out the limits of his horns. As so often, his playing style is distinctive and individual as he manages to avoid clichés—his own or other people's—and keep it fresh without sounding gratuitously "experimental." Key to that is his essential sense of melody; time and again he intersperses passages of innovative technique with spontaneously improvised melodic passages that are lilting, poignant and beautiful.

However, no way is this a trio of saxophone plus support, but an amalgamation of three equal voices into a coherent whole; if any of the three elements were absent, the music would be the poorer for it. Edwards and Robair each get their turns in the spotlight and use them to good effect. But the album's most impressive passages of play are easily those in which all the players are in full flight together, the three strands intertwining perfectly. The Apophonics seem set to be a most impressive combination, both on disc and live. Miss them at your peril...


Track Listing: Fires Were Set; Met By Moonlight; London Melodies.

Personnel: John Butcher: saxophones; John Edwards: bass; Gino Robair: energised surfaces, synth.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Weight of Wax


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