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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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  1. Spider Dreams: II. Waterfall with Blenders
  2. No Mystery
  3. Little Mouse Jumps
  4. Stolen Moments
  5. Ecaroh
  6. Seven Steps to Heaven
  7. Rishi's Dance
  8. Waltz
  9. Julie-O
  10. Gettysburg
  11. Jaco
  12. Spider Dreams: III. Skylife
Apollon Quartet with Vít Švec (bass); Wenzel Grund (clarinet); Milan Cimfe (percussion)
rec. January to May 2011, Sono Records Studio [61:11]


This is, I suppose, crossover. In the brief booklet the classically trained Apollon Quartet itself claims that the music is a compound of folk, jazz, rock and classical. Hence, `crossroads'. The hard-hearted critic, versed on the lore of the blues, will note that the crossroads is where Robert Johnson met the Devil, and the Devil, having all the best tunes, gave them to Johnson in exchange for his soul.

The quartet is Czech, and Czechs like jazz and hot dance music, or did. There are other crossover groups; the French Quatuor Ebène for instance goes in for it, often with singers to add variety. Their approach is more Piazzolla and Bartók. The Apollon is a rather funkier outfit, one more given to loosening the constraints of the classical cummerbund. Thus they tend to use pizzicato as a substitute for the double bass, and generate a greater and more obvious sense of swing than the French group, who prefer a more overtly `subtle' (or `precious') approach, according to one's taste.

I liked the violin note-bending in Stolen Moments. I liked too the core concentration on classics, standards, and finger poppers from the jazz repertoire. The composers include Oliver Nelson, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Horace Silver and Chick Corea. David Balakrishnan contributes compositions of his own and has a big hand in the arrangements. He's the `fifth member' of the group it would appear, in this respect.

There's a bluesy little dance in Balakrishnan's Rishi's Dance and rather Appalachian-sounding cello solo to start Julie-O. The same composer, Mark Summer, contributes Gettysburg which draws from cellist Pavel Verner some unusually Gospel-draped lines, and the group adds some funky `pillars' to frame this rhetoric. Guests include the clarinettist Wenzel Grund and they add their own valuable sound and colour to the proceedings. Only the Hendrix-influenced violin in Spider Dreams: III. Skylife strikes a truly false note. So, too, really the jazz-rock drums.

So, crossroads achieved without losing one's soul. I enjoyed the album, though I concede that others may find it unfocused, or garrulous, or just a plain mélange of moods and gestures. A judicious sampling is probably the order of the day.

Jonathan Woolf

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