Air Ensemble, PICA Bar, May 31, 1996

Yeah, KISS may be about to release yet another live album, but consider the confidence involved in Air Ensemble releasing a live album as a debut? And without all that makeup.

On the fourth night of recording said debut, local shysters Air Ensemble beamed down from Federation Starship ‘Funk-a-prise’, resplendent in Trek bodysuits, to the steaming hot admiration of the PICA community inside, outside and lined-up down the road. Without any promotion, not even a gig guide entry, the PICA venue has been packed for months with every Air Ensemble performance, their maniacal jazz entropy already forming a veritable cult following.

Smoothly swinging from succulent acid jazz, pounding into pompous, Rhodes piano-driven power funk … all augmented with the visuals and sprawled stance of keyboard wunderkind Steve Elkins, the rabid Rex Horan on bass, ex-Spicy Baby Tomato Darren on tubs and gentile guitar guru Antony Gray, these chaps thrashed the crowd into a fervour rarely seen in the PICA coffee den.

With corduroy clad arms flailing and well-groomed five o’clock shadows nodding, coy and insolent Shaft wah-wah comparisons were whispered about the room to be instantly shattered by a rapid turn of pace, or a stomping, booming anthem (The Palace), or even the advent of a five-piece brass section and three backing vocalists (The Message, and Herbie Hancock’s Watermen Head).

In-flight mooching one moment, with Elkins tuning the Rhodes and then literally jumping on the old classic the next, Air Ensemble are the greatest live quartet to caress the stages in ages. The secret is out …

Adam Connors