Jazz just got dirtier
The Apples are an Israeli jazz band who like dressing up as nurses and having a good time. Paul Lester finds out more
THE APPLES are Israel’s foremost exponents of jazzedup, sample-heavy, scratch’n’mix electro-funk. There are nine members of this energetic, eclectic recording and performance unit, including a trumpeter, a trombonist, two saxophonists, an acoustic bassist, a drummer, a pair in charge of turntables, and a sound mixer also responsible for live effects.
They are powerful on record and they work up quite a sweat onstage — and that is before they don their inconcert wear such as the nurses’ uniforms, Star Wars masks and Village People gear.
The only problem is: how do you describe them, and what pigeonhole do you put them in? “We’re Count Basie meets P-Funk,” offers drummer Yoni Halevy helpfully, referring to the jazz legend and the style of groove music played by madcap mid-’70s funk troupes Parliament and Funkadelic.
“Our intention was always to be jazzbased, but we’ve also got in the band DJs, turntablists and a sound engineer. We all trained as jazz musicians, so that was always there. It comes naturally to us.”
But what kind of jazz do they play? Bebop, swing, big band? “It’s been called ‘dirty jazz’,” says Halevy, who, at 26, is the joint-youngest in The Apples (three of them are 33, the rest in between).
The son of a Mancunian mother and Israeli father, he is also the band’s unofficial minister for information — or at least he is tonight, because the others are busy soundchecking for their gig later on at a club in Sheffield.
“Really, I can’t think of a name within the jazz realm. ‘Acid jazz’ doesn’t quite cut it. It’s jazz-informed, instrumental electro-funk. Since we came on the scene there have been other bands incorporatingafunkiersortofsound.And there are other bands using scratching techniques. But because we’re purely instrumental, there is no one quite like us. We’re unique in Israel.”
The nine Apples are, decides Halevy, “pretty secular”, although for Purim they “like to go that extra mile. Our shows have a big party vibe for that one. We go a bit crazy.”
They tend not to discuss their Jewish identity, mainly because they feel they do not need to. “It’s less of a spoken thing in Israel than if you’re part of a minority in the diaspora. We are who we are, all from Israel.”
Actually, two of them now live in Brooklyn, New York, which means, says Halevy, that “we’re not active 24/7. We come together three or four times a year. If we have ideas for songs we might write a quick chart or sketch it out then email it. The rest of the band live in Israel and so meet up once a week. Ideas get picked up there.”
The Apples have known each other for the best part of a decade, and been a band for about five years. Their modus operandi has remained consistent, although they began sampling from dusty old soul and funk vinyl albums while more recently they have been using snippets from a wider range of records, including old blues, a cappella, Moroccan and classical ones. “Once recontextualised,” says Halevy, “anything can sound funky.”
Accordingtothedrummer,whatThe Apples do is less of a polite fusion than a violent clash of cultures and musics — “a loud meeting of genres and eras”, as he puts it. As a consequence, they have a broad fanbase. “They come from all walks of life,” he says, “and the age range is very large. We get funk-heads and people from the outer edge of jazz, as well as kids into punk and hardcore, and a lot of breakdancers as well. In Israel there are just as many subcultural groups as in London.”
One of their songs is a cover version of Killing In The Name, the first single by radical US rap-metal politicos Rage Against The Machine. But Halevy does not agree that The Apples’ intensity is born of a similar seething discontent at the state of things. “There are few or no political references in our music, and we don’t reflect what’s happening in Israel,” he says. “You can’t ignore what’s going on, but we’re all very peaceful. We represent the people in Israel who just want to have a good time.” The Jewish Community Centre for London is hosting a performance by The Apples at Cargo, London EC2 on Monday November 19. For details visit jcclondon. org.uk or call 020 7431 9866
The Apples: “At Purim we have a big party vibe for that one. We go a bit crazy,” says drummer Yoni Halevy