It is initially for investigative purposes that I ventured to Peckham last week to see Israeli supergroup Apifera, after briefly listening to their most recent project ‘6 Visits'. Apifera are categorised under ‘electronic jazz’ and having listened to ‘6 visits’ fully, this categorisation led me down a dangerous rabbit-hole, causing me to question what jazz truly is and why it is that almost any project that presents as musically complex is offered a home there. I concluded post ‘6 visits’ that for my money, Apifera were not a jazz group, but was apprehensive to declare this without seeing them live. Firstly, I must relay the considerable difference between Apifera live and on record. ‘6 Visits’, whilst perhaps vaguely challenging at points, in no way prepared me for the intentionally dissonant live versions of previous project ‘Overstand’ which I had yet to explore. Coincidentally, my seeing the group coincided with a recent obsession with Sun Ra, who himself encouraged his musicians to embrace dissonance and to not shy from potentially causing the audience musical discomfort. This ‘musical discomfort’, when performed by elite musicians, confirms that due to being so educated, the creating of alleged dissonance is deliberate, as it was in the case of Sun Ra. The result? A necessary forcing of the mind into other spheres of thought, with periodical returns to convention for light relief.
Apifera are no strangers to traditional harmony, this can be heard at length on the album versions and yet live there were clearly deliberate alterations to the tuning of the synthesisers. It is only through having heavily researched Sun Ra that I was able to interpret these notes not as ‘out of tune’ but in fact as unexplored harmony. All these rebellious notes were played with rhythmic precision, making this method impossible to dismiss and not to be confused with atonal, arhythmic chaos - which it absolutely was not.
But is it jazz? I did not remain for the entirety of the show. Lured by the local gay bar, I proceeded to get drunk with my brother who, as an undeniably traditional songwriter, had at times found the show hard to take. Whilst heading to the train station en route home, we chanced upon the band leaving the venue and my brother shoved me towards synth player Rejoicer. I congratulated him on the show and invited the band for a joint. They led us to a nearby bar, where we ended up in conversation with the band’s guitarist Yonatan Albalak, who himself agreed that he did not feel the music Apifera makes is jazz. I confess my drunkenness is something of a sore regret in this instance, as I would have been keen to further discuss the modal nature of his playing, as this was one of the main elements and potentially the most traditional and could be considered a connection to jazz. We did however discuss the band’s avoidance of deliberately uncommon time signatures, Johnny Greenwood, and Ayahuasca. He agreed that Sun Ra was a definite influence of the group, and spoke of his own spirituality in regards to music, a subject less prevalent in today’s undeniably premeditated and relentlessly rehearsed music, and another undeniable element of jazz.
Despite this barrage of words, I am actually at a loss for them when it comes to describing the band’s sound. I suppose obtuse might suffice, and whether or not it is jazz I am still unable to proclaim. Sun Ra did not feel the music he created was jazz finding the categorisation limiting, and yet his affiliation with Fletcher Henderson and searing expression of his blackness will forever entrench him in the genre. Whatever Apifera are or aren’t, their exploration of the deliberately unsettling is a bold and necessary statement. To quote Yonatan, it is an honest expression of life, which swings beyond the major and the minor, and is frequently painfully devoid of resolution.