Friday Funk: How You Like Dem Apples?
Words By Andy DeVilbiss
There’s a great song on Breakestra’s latest joint called “No Matter Where You Go.” It’s a party jam about how, no matter where you go, you’ll find bands playing The Funk and funkateers gettin' down in all corners of the globe. I love it because it’s like a groove-charged roll call of my iPhone contents, name-checking groups like the New Mastersounds (England), the Bamboos (Australia), Orgone (the good ol’ US of A), Osaka Monorail (Japan), and Lefties Soul Connection (Holland) among others. Truly and thankfully, the roots of The Funk penetrate the most unlikely of places, and its trees bear fruit in surprisingly fresh and new ways.
The unlikely place would be Tel Aviv, Israel. The Funk is courtesy of the all-instrumental nine-piece outfit The Apples, one of the first names out of my mouth as an answer to the question, “So… what are you listening to these days?” I highlighted their wicked cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” a couple weeks ago, but, believe me, that’s just a small taste of this fresh and talented band. They get juicy like a Fuji and make Granny Smith shake her fanny smith. Golden AND delicious.
Formed in 2002, the Apples feature one of the more unique line-ups I’ve ever seen in a funk band with a four-piece horn section, drums, upright bass, and three dudes rocking turntables and sound effects. This somewhat odd line-up is a strength, and I can honestly say I have a hard time thinking of another band that sounds like the Apples. In fact, a few things hit me instantly when I started listening to these cats.
After years of listening to licks, tones and styles firmly derived from the Mount Rushmore of Funk Bass (that’d be Graham, Jamerson, Porter, and Collins, in that order, and I will NOT debate this), the sound of Alon Carmelly’s acoustic, upright bass immediately added a fresh and inviting vibe to the low-end. It’s still deadly funky down there, but the warm resonance and languid stretchiness of the upright bass provides an undeniable bounce to the proceedings. When combined with Yonadav Halevy, who dips fatback, ramshackle drumbeats into the fryer until they're hot, crispy, and dripping with grease, you’ve got a tight, potent rhythmic base for the horns and the turntablists to play around with.
Speaking to turntablists… Too often when a DJ sits in with a band or is part of the band, their contribution seems to be little more than the occasionally scratched vocal sample or percussive punctuation. And that's ok, but if the dude behind the decks is half-assed, well, the turntable risks becoming noticeably intrusive compared to the rest of the music or a completely useless afterthought. The highest compliment I can pay the Apples’ turntable/effects trio of Ofer “Schoolmaster” Tal, Erez Todres and Uri “MixMonster” Wertheim? They blend in so well as part of the band that I kinda forgot they were using turntables. There's ample scratching and vocal samples, which never sound out of place or overbearing, but, beyond that, the rest of the record player output consists of snippets of keyboards, strings, guitar, and a host of other samples that are artfully placed and fully incorporated into the band's sound. The Apples attempt a supremely challenging task in folding the turntable elements into the larger whole and still maintaining the uniqueness of the turntable as a legitimate instrument, and they do it as good or better than any band I've ever heard.
The horns? Hot damn. The horns - Arthur Krasnobaev (trumpet), Yaron Ouzana (trombone), Oleg Nayman (tenor/soprano saxophone) and Yakir Sasson (baritone sax) - are all adept soloists and about as good as good gets as a collective. Tight like the security at Area 51, they pop with staccato bursts then slither and swirl with complex, heady, jazz licks before dropping the hammer with a horn equivalent of a Flying V power chord. It's brutally, brilliantly bombastic. We're talking Tower of Power/JB Horns-type potential. Think I'm being blasphemous by invoking two of the greatest horn sections ever? Then take it up with one Mr. Fred Wesley, who provided his trombone happiness and horn arrangements to half of the tracks on the Apples' 2010 double-EP, "Kings," which was conceived as a tribute to their two of their greatest musical influences.
The other contributor to "Kings" was the Shlomo Bar, lead singer of Natural Selection and considered by many to be the godfather of modern Israeli world music. So, on top of an already crazy recipe of funk/jazz/electronic/hip-hop fusion, they're tossing in the incredible flavors of their homeland into the mix. And the Apples try to keep their recordings as close to live as possible, especially on a project like their other 2010 release, "Looking for Trouble," recorded on a brief stop between gigs in the UK at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios. It's evidence of an potentially face-melting live act, which, sadly, may only rarely make it to the United States given the touring costs for a nine-piece based in Israel (you got one paying customer already guys).
The Apples are brewing a bubbling cauldron of awesome, cooking it down with care into their own unique and somewhat addicting sauce. They done brung a magic melting pot full of sweetass cobbler to the the global village funk barbeque. If I might channel my inner Food Network Star, it's rich and creamy with sweet spicy kicks and unexpected flavors that just explosively resonate all over your palette.
Translation? Bite into the Apples and sho'nuff let that tasty juice run down your chin. Sweet sassy molassy... It's sticky.
Buzzin' About (2008)
Looking for Trouble (2010)