Dorian Dumont: To The APhEX: Ode Sessions #2

French classical pianist with a jazz sensibility transforms the electronic dance tunes of Aphex Twin into convincing piano music

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Here’s an unlikely pairing if ever there was: a French classical pianist performing the contemporary electronic music of Aphex Twin, who in real life is the experimentally singular Richard D. James. The cover of this LP states that “This album will delight lovers of sequels, falling buildings, sunken cathedrals, new chapters most of all and parentheses (always).”

So far, none the wiser, especially since Dumont has chosen little that is familiar from the Twin’s repertoire: nothing from the sublime and justly celebrated Selected Ambient Works 85–92, just #3 (Rhubarb) from its 1994 successor, IZ-US from the drum and bass Come To Daddy EP of 1997, the cyborg R&B Windowlicker single from 1999, and four album tracks dating between 1995 and 2014. All the songs are by the Twin, excepting ICCT Hedral’s Echo, which is by Dumont himself. Aphex Twin doesn’t have hit singles, although his albums do bother the charts occasionally, and his song titles are hardly explanatory, so what’s the story here?

The answer I think lies in devoted fandom and understanding, a pianist’s love affair with and respect for his musical hero. Dumont’s recorded an Aphex Twin tribute – APHEXion – before, in 2021, so has previous in this field, and he approaches each song in a new light. In its original form, 180db from 2014’s Syro was a repetitive acid-house stomper but here is transformed into a something of insistent urgency. PAPAT4 from the same album had a jazzy breakbeat over heavy synths with some weirdly distorted vocals and here becomes a rolling and ebullient theme. Windowlicker gets the biggest transformation of all, from sonic mayhem into a gentle and gorgeous rhapsody. And #3 (Rhubarb) from Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which was beatless ambience taken to the furthest atmospheric extremes of repetition and stasis, is now utterly recreated as a lyrical, poignant endpiece.

Throughout, the sonic and tonal shift from massed studio electronics to solo piano is revelatory, each song taking on a new and shimmering life. Jazz musicians have long plundered the wilder shores of rock music to good effect – Brad Mehldau adapting Radiohead, for example – but it brings a classical pianist with a jazz sensibility and improvisational skills to really rewrite the score. Without knowing many of the originals, I was nevertheless enchanted by this wondrous set.

Discography
180db _ [130]; Windowlicker; ICCT Hedral; PAPAT4 [155] [Pineal Mix] (21.44) – Avril 14th; IZ–US; ICCT Hedral’s Echo; #3 (Rhubarb) (22.00)
Dumont (p). Brussels, Belgium, 7–8 June 2023
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