Jazz Apollo Saxophone Quartet / Gas Giants University Hall, Bath

'It was the mad elevator music of the Gas Giants that followed you home'
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The Independent Culture
Coming soon to a pub lounge or day centre near you, the Gas Giants are where the avant-garde meets cheap and cheerful club-combo entertainment, on the trading estate roundabout that is the cutting edge of new musical technology today. Comprising Will Gregory - the leader of the Apollos - on sax and cheesy keyboards, and jazz drummer Tony Orrell, they tread a fine line between tongue-in-cheek versions of taste-free classics (a truly dreadful version of "Rivers of Babylon", for example) and po-faced deconstructions of myriad musical forms, from trance to Transylvania. There's a performance element, too, if that's what you call bad Seventies suits and Orrell's collection of silly hats and bird-masks. They are, however, incredibly good and could become the band to hire for that difficult- to-fill installation spot or dubious wedding party.

The recipe is fairly simple, though it sometimes takes a few moments for the floppy-disk samples to kick in. Gregory starts off a pre-programmed bass riff, say, which Orrell then decorates with awful syn-drum noises from an antique drum machine, and then the saxophonist warbles over the top in the appropriate register, such as fatback funk, Paul Desmond lyricism or cack-handed Bacharach. The range of moods and musical jokes is immense, but whenever they decide to try to sound like themselves the effect is both eerie and enlightening. For their final number they brought on the other members of the quartet and proceeded to accompany a filmed documentary, The Collapse of the Takoma Steel Span Bridge, from 1940. As the bridge first swung in the hurricane-force wind, then buckled and fell into thesea, the band went from jaunty Mack Sennett comic-cuts to a genuinely moving lament.

The Apollo Saxophone Quartet had an unenviable task following that, but their performance of Graham Fitkin's "Stub" soon dispelled any doubts, reminding one just how excellent a piece this is. Kees Van Unen's "Rhombi" continued the impeccably timed, and very Steve Reich-ian, wind-phasing, with the quartet's ensemble of saxophone registers sounding as tight as fingers in a fist. In the more leisurely paced pieces written by jazz composers - Bob Minzer's "Saxophone Quartet" and the two excerpts from Chick Corea's "Children's Songs" - where there was more room for individual voices to come through, the music sounded a little too airy-fairy, with no really convincing solo voices to spark excitement. Gregory's own "Hoe Down", a furious deconstruction of Bulgarian folk music, closed the show on an appropriately upbeat note. However, it was the mad elevator music of the Gas Giants that followed you home, whether you wanted it to or not.

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