An improvisation-based album, in my view, tends to hang on the palette rather than the performance. Obviously, to a large degree, a wide ornamental, phrasal and dynamic vocabulary are beneficial elements, but the choice of instruments can be the strong foundation that is vital.
Aparat is a duo comprised of Marc Springer and Arthur Jeffes. Indeed, without any information, I had already felt a strong Penguin Cafe vibe to this record. And not in the new incarnation of Arthur Jeffes, but the one of his father’s. A throbbing harmonium and the occasional celeste give a pleasant parochial charm, evoking some rural chamber music. But there is more to this record than that.
Springer’s piano is the spine from which hangs a varied carcass. In “Annona” I heard strains of lounge, “Leger” pulled the toes of Brubeck, “Liga” has a pleasing child’s march or even a minuet, and on the closing “Matter”, the final note is suitably obtuse. An unsettling low note offering an awkward, unresolved feeling.
Peppering these vignettes are moments of vocal yelps (perhaps an owl on “Into The Moment”?), tricksy plucking of strings and woody bashing of surfaces. One of my favourite elements is the blending of the harmonium with the piano which can move from serene to funereal. It is a joy to hear the bellows driving in the background, an élan vital to the dry bones.
It is hard to know how much of this truly is on-the-fly and how much of it is a product of collaborative searching. It feels fluid and organic, however, so maybe this is a moot point. Parts wind in and out, dynamics rise and flow, suggesting a wider intention and effective collaborative atmosphere. The net result is that it makes sense. The constituent parts generate a tone of wandering a dale, to field-based chase scenes, misery in an inglenook, uncanny foreign factors in an otherwise familiar space, captured tension, wealth and loneliness…
If I had any criticism of this record, it’d be the length being just slightly too long for the casual listener. It has a hypnotic sensibility that may cause some minds to wander in the more extended sections. I think, however, the mainstay of the pieces are interesting, varied and original enough to carry most people. This is one that I will be returning to again and again, as I know there is detail I have missed and other stuff to stare at in the swelling noise.