Apollo & Artvark group

Here is a short video sampler of the fantastic new project that the Apollo and Artvark Sax Quartets have recently recorded and are now touring. Without doubt one of the best collaborative project we have devised over the last 34 years.

Original music by the members of the group, contemporary classical meets contemporary jazz, all players composer/performer/improvisers.

The two groups have performed the music from the project at venues across the Netherlands and the UK, including; RNCM Manchester, Turner Sims Concert Hall Southampton, Amersfoort Jazz Festival, Tivoli Vrendenberg, De Doelen Concert Halls, Rotterdam, and Covid-postponed performances at Bimhuis and the Breda Jazz Festival hopefully rescheduled for 2021. Watch this space for more news as dates are confirmed.

CD Two Saxophone Quartets Collide and Merge

“In the long history of humankind, those who collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” CHARLES DARWIN

APOLLO and ARTVARK first met in 2014 on tour in South Africa, and following these exciting collaborative performances, have been working together on a ground-breaking project. Blurring the lines between classical and jazz, discovering the possibilities of 8 ‘brass men’ in full battle, full of eagerness to mix their combined artistry and history to create a new sound world that defines a new tradition, all players writing, all players improvising, collectively drawing on influences from the past and present to shape the sonic experience of the future. In 2019, following some exploratory performances and rehearsals over the previous 18 months, the groups recorded and released their new CD “Two Quartets Collide & Merge”. The 8 original compositions from all members of the group offer a huge range of styles and sounds that somehow blend together to make cohesive whole: a piece for two baritones, accompanied by the others, hocketing melodies divided over 8 saxophones moving like clockwork, interweaving lines inspired by the movement of the ocean and the wind, music to excite and challenge, to engage and to move the soul. There are challenges for both quartets individually as this new music demands that each quartet moves stealthily but imperceptibly into the musical world of the other. Those who dare to join us on this journey will be captivated by the kaleidoscopic properties and almost limitless sounds gifted by the saxophone. You will never forget this. Despite a through composed element to the music, it will never happen exactly the same way twice. On land, over seas, in fields, across towns, 8 brass men throw it down. Those saxophones they say!


ASQ apollo artvark casgb mag autumn 2019RB Article for CASSGB Magazine

In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise
most effectively have prevailed.  — Charles Darwin

Durban, South Africa, April 2014: It all began over dinner. As so many good things often do. Two years earlier, I had a South African student, Matthew Lombard, (who has since gone on to great things: https://matthewlombard.co.za) come to study for a Masters at the RNCM. In addition to his saxophone studies, he wanted to observe the planning and running of the RNCM Saxophone Day, with a view to creating a similar event for the first time in his native country. Two years later, that became a reality, under the auspices of UNISA, the University of South Africa, with the support of the University’s Music Director Karendra Devroop, himself a fine jazz saxophonist.

Matthew and Karendra organised a series of four Saxophone Days, in Durban, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town, bringing together for the first time in the country’s history saxophonists from across the community – students, professionals, classical and jazz players, students from the private schools and self-taught players from the townships. It was a really special series of events. In Cape Town we had over 100 saxophonists playing together – the first time in the countries history that this had happened, and even borrowed the South African Army’s bass saxophone, the only one in the country, and which hadn’t been played for 30 years!

But back to the dinner – particularly good, locally sourced steak if I recall, and some truly excellent wine – on the first night that we arrived in Durban, hosted by Matthew and Karendra in an outdoor restaurant near the sea. We were introduced to the Artvark Saxophone Quartet, from Holland, who Karendra had invited to be the ‘jazz’ side of the saxophone days, whilst Apollo was there on ‘classical’ duties. ‘Rolf, Bart, Mete and Peter meet Rob, Carl, Andy and Jim’. We’d done our homework, read their biogs, listened to their CDs, watch their videos – these guys were seriously cool. They had checked us out too, and there was a great deal of respect at the table. Conversation flowed easily, as did the wine…

The following morning, we started the first Saxophone Day in Durban, in a small jazz club venue, in the intense heat. Both quartets play a short piece, and then we all talked to the sax players about our groups, philosophies and so on, before playing some massed pieces from both group’s libraries. We played some of Barbara Thompson’s Quartet no.3, I recall, they played a chart from their album Bluestories called ‘Blues for a Hip King’, and both groups were immediately so inspired by the other – there was a classical, contemporary approach to their playing and writing, and more than a hint of jazz inflection and groove to our playing that each group felt drawn towards. By the end of the day, after the evening concert, where we had each played a half hour set, we had found even more common ground – both groups playing pieces with key clicks providing rhythm impetus, both groups playing minimalist inspired pieces, both played slow, beautifully crafted ballads, so much common ground between two groups allegedly from different worlds.

Throughout the ten day tour, with concerts and workshops in schools, colleges and so on, and the four saxophone days themselves, real friendships began to develop between all eight of us, and we hatched a plan to end the final (and largest) Saxophone Day in Cape Town with a joint set, with the eight of us, Karendra and Matthew and a rhythm section, all playing together. Andy Scott had some of his Group S charts with him, and we put together a short set to close the concert, with all of us improvising, crossing the jazz/classical divide once again. And then much like it started, it all ended with another great meal – and as is so often the case with musicians everywhere, our parting words to each other were “we really should play together again sometime”.

And then we headed back to our own worlds, and life carried on….

our guests at the RNCM Saxophone Day in 2017, and (as the many of you who were there will testify) they brought the house down. And during that visit (over dinner once again – there is a theme developing here!) we moved the idea forward – the Artvark had some funding applications going in for the next three years of their artistic planning, and wanted to make a project with the two quartets one of these projects. We agreed that we would meet in Manchester in January 2018 to try out some tentative ideas. The brief was deceptively simple: each of us would write a piece for the group – any style, with or without improvisation, using the eight players in any way, merging, colliding the two quartet worlds. No agenda, we’d just meet, try some things out, see if it felt like there would be maybe two or three short items that we could do something with to add to the end a programme of Apollo music and Artvark music, something for the eight of us to bring the concert to a close. That was it.

It could have been a complete disaster…

But on a rainy morning in January 2017, the Artvark guys flew over from Holland, and we rented a studio at Salford University, and spent two days playing through everyone’s new charts, with a couple of mics thrown up to record the chaos in case anything good happened. From the very first moment, it became apparent that we had come up with something special…we played through the first chart, and there was an immediate empathy, and then the next chart brought another dimension, and on it went – all the while we kept waiting for it to go wrong, but the group kept finding new sounds, new ideas, each member putting forward open and creative suggesting about changes, different layouts fo the saxes to bring out a particular effect, to merge the group in one piece, to have the two quartets opposing in another, building in solo sections, shaping the music in a collaborative way. By the end of the two days, we knew we were really onto something…

The next step was a three day block of concerts in Holland in May 2018 – a small try-out gig in a disused warehouse, now used as a music venue, then a concert on a boat on a canal near the conservatoire in Enschede and finally a high profile performance at the Amersfoort Jazz Festival. Following the hugely positive reactions from the audiences at these shows, we knew that we had to get together and record the project, and so in Feb 2019, we organised a two day recording session, back at the excellent studios at Salford University, preceded by a small invitation only concert at HOME Manchester – concerts are always the best rehearsals! The two days of recording were a real highlight, a great supportive vibe and energy from everyone, and we created some really special moments – both groups are very much of the opinion that a take with energy, architecture and atmosphere with a few flaws here and there is preferable to a more sterile recording made up of edits and tracked instruments, so we all played together in the same room at the same time for as much of the album as possible, in the moment, and the result is a CD that flows and feels like a concert performance.

In a last minute twist of fate, Bart had brought a short, fugue-like quartet piece to the sessions to feature the Apollo, with a
‘classical’ solo from Carl, with the Artvarks providing a jazz organ-like backing – really almost an experiment. And right at the very end of the two long and intense days of recording, we recorded this haunting track. Then, with just 30 minutes of studio time left, we jokingly suggested that we should press record and try it once in reverse – with the Artvarks playing the ‘classical’ lines’ and the Apollos providing the backing, and something true special happened – we played one take of this version, and I think the release of tension knowing that the CD was in the can, that the project was complete, created a really special, unique, once in a lifetime moment, and the piece just took off – all of us knew, in the silence at the end before the mics were muted, that we’d just captured something really special – and that track now closes the CD. In fact, in so many ways, the juxtaposition of the two takes of that piece – “Apollarque” in it’s original version and then “Euqrallopa” in the reverse version (see what we did there?) – provide a perfect metaphor for the whole project – Two Quartets Collide and Merge – a real coming together of music, without label, genre or pre-conceived convention, just honest, open, joyous music-making. The next day, the editing started, and three weeks later, mixed, edited and mastered, the CD went off for production, and somehow with just two days to spare, arrived in time for three more concerts and some workshops in Holland in April, including the official CD launch at De Doelen in Rotterdam – a really special night for us all.

The project now comes to Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton on 1st Nov, and then will close the RNCM Saxophone Day on 3rd Nov, before we play TivoliVrendenberg Utrecht on 22 Dec, with more dates planned for 2020 and beyond. The Apollo Quartet has, in it’s 34 year history, collaborated with a wide variety of artists and genres – projects with Strings, Poet, Multi-media, Silent Film, Concerti with Symphony and Wind Orchestras, Saxophone and Percussion Octet, recorded 8 CDs of premieres of the groups countless commissions and collaborations, and this new project ranks right up there as one of the most artistically and musically creative collaborations yet, something of a landmark recording – all eight musicians as performers, composers, improvisers and collaborators. We think Charles Darwin would have approved.

The CD “Apollo and Artvark: Two Quartets Collide & Merge” is available form apollosaxophonequartet.com and artvarksq.com as well as being on the usual streaming services – but of course, the only people that make money out of streaming are the streaming companies, so if you would like to support the musicians themselves, it would make a real difference to us if you ordered a copy from us direct. The proceeds will no doubt go towards another dinner….and who knows where that will take us.

Two Quartets Collide & Merge: Track Listing
The Sea Between:
Rob Buckland
Rather Me
Rolf Delfos
Project X
Peter Broekhuizen
Jacob’s Ladder
Jim Fieldhouse
Carl Raven
Clockwork Blue
Dark, Disturbing, Yet Utterly Beautiful
Mete Erker
Deux Cents France
Andy Scott
Bart Wirtz
Bart Wirtz

Apollo Saxophone Quartet

Rob Buckland - Soprano & Alto Saxophone
Carl Raven - Alto Saxophone
Andy Scott - Tenor Saxophone
Jim Fieldhouse - Baritone Saxophone 

Artvark saxophone Quartet

Rolf Delfos- Alto & Soprano Saxophone
Bart Wirtz- Alto Saxophone
Mete Erker - Tenor Saxophone
Peter Broekhuizen- Baritone Saxophone

Rob Buckland 09 Jun ‘18