Modern funk - for all the plus points to its insistence on vintage instrumentation - can sometimes become too frozen in the past. So it's nice to see Israel's The Apples using their new album, Kings, to take their grooves to places many funkers don't go.
Hailing from Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and the Ukraine, The Apples are a drums, bass and horns outfit augmented by turntablists DJ Todres and Schoolmaster and further effects from electronic console wizard Mixmonster - also the project's co-producer and engineer. Conceived as a double-sided LP, Kings is divided into two sets of collaborations: one with James Brown's trombonist Fred Wesley and the other with Moroccan-born Israeli vocalist and percussionist Shlomo Bar (who wrote three of the four pieces he sings).
The Wesley side is sparse, fairly traditional jazz funk with samples, scratching and dub-style tape delays thrown in, building on the similarly US-derived sounds of previous release Buzzin' About, from 2008. Despite so many horn players in the studio, the brass is used sparingly over the near-constant rumble of the rhythm section, which pairs Yonadav Halevy's loose, jazzy drumming with Alon Carmelly's soupy upright bass.
For the Shlomo side, the band moves away from Western time signatures to explore their Middle Eastern and African influences beneath Bar's grainy, soaring vocals and furious hand percussion. Ilan Ben-Ami, guitarist in Bar's group Habrera Hativeet, here guests on the oud, giving an ancient garnish to the Apples' sound.
There are no novelty covers like the boys' breakout reinterpretation of Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name, yet there is an infectious playfulness to the eight cuts here that indicates a similar sense of fun. It's a game of two halves but, as a whole, this album manages to salute two kings of music as well as funk's past, present and future, all in one go.
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