Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Univers Zero - 1984 - Uzed

Univers Zero 

01. Presage (9:48)
02. L’Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz (3:52)
03. Celesta (for Chantal) (6:55)
04. Parade (6:37)
05. Emmanations (15:43)

- Daniel Denis / drums, percussion, synthesizer
- Dirk Descheemaeker / soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
- Christian Genet / bass, balafon, bowed guitar, tapes, whistle
- Andre Mergen / cello, alto sax, voice
- Jean-Luc Plouvier / electric & acoustic pianos, synthesizer, piano strings, percussion

Uzed’s the cornerstone of Univers Zero’s career. Up to now, Univers Zero’s music had been mostly acoustic RIO, developing sinister moods and searching for human’s darker instincts. But with this album, Denis was to change considerably Univers Zero’s direction and this was due in no small part to the friendly competition he maintained with ex-Univers Zero Roger Trigaux, who had formed Present (with Denis holding the drum stool), and pushing each other to explore new musical territories. By now, Daniel Denis was the last remaining original member, Berckmans devoting his effort to Von Zamla. In comes future long time collab Dirk Descheemaeker on winds, Genet on bass and assorted string instruments, Plouvier (another future central figure) on keyboards and Mergen on cello and sax.

This album, as I said above, is the start of a new direction and can be easily seen as a blueprint for all their future album until Implosion. The music had now shifted from the sinister and macabre to the sombre and mysterious ambiances, the eastern influences being much more present (pardon the pun ;-), than previously. One of the most striking results is that the album is generally more melodious than the previous three, which often flirted with dissonance and atonal music. Here, the music has mystic and grandiose aspects not previously developed. The opener Présage is probably my favourite track as the mystery of the mid-eastern dawns (with the cello strongly inducing Arab ambiances) in a yet-asleep harem (see why I think this is their best track? ;-) and the first smell of Green tea as you are heading for the hamam with three beautiful creatures, and the clarinet providing the drama: this almost 10-min track is flawless. The manic Doctor Schwartz is a 100 mph nightmare with Plouvier’s piano providing the base for a haunting cello and clarinet. Wrapping up the first side of this wax slice, is Celeste (with two guest-musicians), a slow-developing almost 7-min track where the piano has the dominant role until the monstrous entrance of the “beast and Delory’s electric guitar (sometimes reminding you of Pinhas or Fripp) is clearly its angry scream. The only flaw I can think of is that the track ends in a fade-out.

Parade is probably where Miriodor took a good deal of their inspiration and the mad breaking noise are extremely disturbing, but the insane beat is not letting you off the hook. Centrepiece Emmanations is one stunning and most convincing track, where Univers Zero is simply taking on the role of a progressive giant group, but if it is not known widely among the progheads, it is mostly because this album was recorded in 1984. Had it been recorded a decade earlier, no doubt that this album would be standing with Magma’s 1001° Centigrade or Henry Cow’s Legend. Denis’s composing powers are simply impressive and his percussions are awesomely inventive, and the oppressive but enthralling ambiances make the almost 16-min track seem too short. In the closing section, the track diverges into electronic delirium, which some twenty years later, Denis will come back to and base his Implosion album around similar themes.

Clearly the album separating the two phases of Univers Zero, this album will serve as a template for Univers Zero albums for two decades to come (including Denis’s two solo albums).

Univers Zero - 1983 - Crawling Wind

Univers Zero 
Crawling Wind

01. Toujours plus a l’est (5:29)
02. Before The Heat (4:03)
03. Central Belgium In The Dark (Live) (9:50)
04. Influences (Bonus) (7:36)
05. Triomphe Des Mouches (Bonus Live) (9:51)
06. Complainte (Bonus Live) (5:28)

- Daniel Denis / drums, percussion, voice, violin, harmonium
- Dirk Descheemaeker / clarinet
- Andy Kirk / piano, organ, synth, voice, viola, music box, percussion, harmonium, radio
- Guy Segers / bass, voice, violin, invisible talk, flies talk
- Alan Ward / violin
- Christian Genet / bass
- André Mergenthaler / cello
- Jean-Luc Plouvier / keyboards
- Michel Berckmans / oboe, bassoon
- Patrick Hanappier / viola
- Roger Trigaux / guitar

“Crawling Wind” was originally released in 1983 as a limited edition, japanese only 12? EP by Eastern Works. This rare 3-track EP has been re-mastered with the addition of previously unreleased studio and live material.

Daniel Denis’ “Toujours plus a l’Est” is an excellent composition that easily matches the consistently high quality of the band’s other studio works from that era. The piece is uncharacteristically brightly colored, obviously taking a breather from the darkness and brooding that defined their previous three albums, though still with the dashes of Eastern European flavor and uncluttered, rhythmic precision that gives it that unmistakable Univers Zero identity.

Before we get too comfortable, however, Andy Kirk’s “Before the Heat” is more characteristic of the macabre atmosphere indigenous to the band’s earlier albums and reputation, with plucked strings and chasmal reverberations. This mood is reinforced by the live improvisation “Central Belgium in the Dark”, recorded in 1982.

The bonus additional tracks feature “Influences”, a Kirk-penned studio recording from 1982; “Triomphe Des Mouches” recorded live in Hannover in 1984 and “Complainte” recorded live in Belgium in 1979.

“Crawling Wind” is somewhat of an uneven EP, and certainly the massive interest in it was due in part to its obscurity and rarity. It is a must-have for those who can’t get enough of this band’s peak period. Not the best place to start, but certainly not be ignored either.

Univers Zero - 1981 - Ceux Du Dehors

Univers Zero 
Ceux Du Dehors

01. Dense – 12:26
02. La Corne Du Bois Des Pendus – 8:42
03. Bonjour Chez Vous – 3:52
04. Combat – 12:53
05. La Musique D’erich Zann – 3:29
06. La Tete Du Corbeau – 3:11
07. Triomphe Des Mouches – 5:36

- Michel Berckmans / bassoon, oboe, English horn
- Daniel Denis / drums, percussion
- Patrick Hanappier / viola, violin
- Andy Kirk / harmonium, organ, piano, mellotron
- Guy Segers / bass
- Jean Debefve / hurdy-gurdy
- Jean-Luc Aime / violin
- Ilona Chale / voice
- Thierry Zaboitzeff / cello

Third album from this stunning but sombre group and one of the highest rated from fans and often cited as THE album.

The 12-min+ Dense is a fiery “introduction” with Mellotrons layers underlined a strong harmonium, woodwinds and violin under the heavy duty Segers/Denis rhythm section. The middle section is rather quieter, but not any less worrisome, but Berckmans oboe draws wonders. Following this monster track is the no-less impressive (but very oppressive;-) La Corne, which is downright macabre with a few out of this world vocals and its church organ. We are definitely more in the classical music than in the rock spectrum with this track. Closing the first side is an almost danceable and considerably lighter Bonjour Chez Vous. Gothic is the word to describe this oeuvre.

The second side opens on the almost 13-min Kirk-penned Combat, with its war-like march beats, its calm before the battle, its battlesounds and full blown grandeur. “La Musique d’Erich Zann” is probably the oddest track on the album. It consists mostly of scraping and grinding noises that build up to a fever pitch, and then suddenly snap and return to their original quiet tone. “La Tete du Corbeau” is another quiet, brooding piece, but not nearly as “weird” as the previous track. A glorious first version of “Triomphe Des Mouches” makes the link with the following studio album.

Univers Zero - 1979 - Heresie

Univers Zero 

01. La Faulx (25:18)
02. Jack the Ripper (13:29)
03. Vous le Saurez en Temps Voulu (12:56)

04. Chaos Hermetique (11:51)

- Michel Berckmans – bassoon, oboe
- Daniel Denis – drums, percussion
- Patrick Hanappier – viola, violin
- Roger Trigaux – guitar, piano, organ, harmonium
- Guy Segers – bass, voice

If their debut album was a slap in the face, this second album can be assimilated to a kick in the arse coupled with an uppercut in the stomach. Univers Zero’s music was never designed for easy thrills and charming melodies to get cosy with a partner, but with this album, the music sinks to the lower instincts of the human mind, uncovering some rather macabre moods. By now, the group is down to a sextet, with Nicaise gone, Trigaux will take on the keyboard duties, while still working his guitars. Another change is the arrival of Guy Segers on bass, and some thirty years later, he is still around the scene, albeit not always as a musician.

As with the debut, the artwork is just as dark and sinister (do not be fooled by the heavy gothic feel, though), fitting the music marvellously well, but certainly not making it more accessible. The side-long “epic”, the 25-min Denis-penned La Faulx is a slow starter and newcomer Segers sings out chants that could easily be written by Vander. Quite a grandiose but doomed and gloomed moment, the track slowly picks up and peaks around the 11 to 13 minutes mark, and resumes a calmer (and repetitive) pace not far from Stravinsky’s most sombre works.

The second side starts off with a collaboration between Denis and Trigaux, the 15 min+ Jack The Ripper, with the harmonium dictating the slow and lugubrious ambiance, with Denis’s percussions providing most of the interest in the early part, before the violin first and the bassoon next bring the track to the next level of intensity. The albums wraps up on the Trigaux-penned En Temps Voulu track which brings many shivers of angst, which pretty well repeats what has been said before.

Hérésie is one of those albums that must be played only when the listener’s moods are suitably ready for it. Compared to the rather short 1313, this 50-minute monster is quite a step upwards and forward in their musical search, but can be a bit long at times. Not recommended for the faint-hearted.

Univers Zero - 1977 - Univers Zero

Univers Zero
Univers Zero (1313)

01. Ronde (14:45)
02. Carabosse (3:40)
03. Docteur Petiot (7:25)
04. Malaise (7:42)
05. Complainte (3:18)

- Michel Berckmans / bassoon
- Daniel Denis / percussion
- Marcel Dufrane / violin
- Christian Genet / bass
- Patrick Hanappier / violin, viola, pocket cello
- Emmanuel Nicaise / harmonium, spinet
- Roger Trigaux / guitar

With a musical vision that is at the same time dark and ominous, yet stylish and sophisticated, UNIVERS ZERO are one of the most unique and influential bands ever to be associated with progressive rock, and the undisputed creators of the genre known as 'chamber rock'. Getting their inspiration from such diverse sources as rock, jazz, European folk and classical music (both ancient and modern), they have forged a distinctive sound that has received widespread critical acclaim, as well as influencing a vast number of contemporary avant-garde bands and ensembles.

Hailing from Belgium, the band was formed in 1973 by drummer Daniel DENIS and trumpeter Claude Deron, with the original name of Necronomicon - though this was changed to UNIVERS ZERO (after a book by Belgian novelist Jacques Sternberg) in 1974. At the time, their music was strongly influenced by electric jazz, though this changed when Michel Berckmans (reeds) joined the band. Their self-titled debut album (also known as "1313"), composed by DENIS and guitarist Roger Trigaux, was released in 1977 as a limited edition, and soon afterwards reissued by Atem, a label specialized in avant-garde music. The following year, UNIVERS ZERO joined four other groups from different countries (HENRY COW, STORMY SIX, ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN and SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA) to set up the movement known as "Rock in Opposition" (RIO).

Shortly after the release of their second album, "Heresie" (1979), Trigaux left UNIVERS ZERO to form his own band, PRESENT. Then keyboardist Andy Kirk joined the band, and began to contribute his own compositions. The new line-up soon embarked on a tour of France, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and the Netherlands. After the recording of their third album, "Ceux du Dehors" (1981), which featured only a portion of the material the band had composed in that period of time, UNIVERS ZERO ground to a temporary halt because of financial problems, and only resumed their touring activity after several months, with a revamped line-up (including Dirk Descheemaeker on clarinet, and Alan Ward on violin). Their heavy touring schedule in 1981-82, as well as other stresses, led to Kirk's leaving the band in 1983, and yet another line-up change, with Jean-Luc Plouvier (keyboards) and André Mergenthaler (cello) joining, as well as the return of bassist Christian Genet. This version of UNIVERS ZERO played concerts in France, Germany and Belgium, prior to the release of their fifth studio album, "UZED" (1984), considered by many as their masterpiece.

After that, more line-up changes occurred, with Mergenthaler leaving to join French outfit ART ZOYD, and former members Andy Kirk and Patrick Hanappier (violin) returning to the fold, together with a new guitarist, Michel Delory. UNIVERS ZERO; now a seven-piece, participated in a number of prestigious events in 1985 and 1986 (notably the Frankfurt Jazz Festival), performing DENIS' newest compositions, as well as several unrecorded material written by Kirk in 1981-83. In the summer of 1986, this line-up went into the studio to record the band's sixth album, "Heatwave", released in the early months of the following year by US-based label Cuneiform Records. However, in spite of the positive feedback received by the disc, DENIS had already decided to dissolve the band, frustrated by the minimal sales and the lack of opportunities for live performances. The two final line-ups of UNIVERS ZERO's early years are documented by the live album "Relaps", released by Cuneiform in 2009.

After the band's demise, Daniel DENIS worked as a solo artist, releasing two albums of new compositions, "Sirius and the Ghost" (1991) and "Les Eaux Troubles" (1993) on the Cuneiform label, which also began to reissue UNIVERS ZERO's entire back catalogue. He also joined ART ZOYD for a period of seven years. However, the worldwide success of those reissues convinced DENIS to resurrect the band, both as a live and a recording project, at the end of the 1990s. At first UNIVERS ZERO got back together to play a one-off concert at the Festival des Musiques Actuelles at Victoriaville (Canada) in 1997 - with a line-up that included Andy Kirk and Guy Segers. Then, the following year, DENIS and Michel Berckmans reunited, and, with the help of a number of guest musicians (including some former band members), produced four studio albums: "The Hard Quest" (1999), "Rhythmix" (2002), "Implosion" (2004), and "Clivages" (2009), all released on Cuneiform - as well as a live album, "Live!" (2006), and the above-mentioned "Relaps", featuring previously-unreleased archival material.

What a slap in the face Univers Zero gives you in terms of an introduction to their music. I cannot think of one group that dared so much at once in their debut album as Univers Zero did at the time, bar some other RIO outfits. Mostly an acoustic band (bar the bass and some of Trigaux’s guitars), the music coming out here is a cross of Zappa (Uncle Meat), meeting Henry Cow, Bela Bartok or Charles Ives, yet it has a distinct rock flavour, but maybe not in a widely-accepted manner. Thev music is anything but light hearted, rather sombre and oppressive always flirting with dissonances, but never going over the top with them (as was frequently the case with Henry Cow). If I can be so nadve as to remind you that Univers Zero is one of the six signataires of the Rock In Opposition chart, you might just understand that Univers Zero is as much about their music as they are about aesthetics of their music. For this debut album, Univers Zero is a septet and the huge majority of instrument used are of the classical persuasion.

It is of course never easy to describe such difficult music, with either words or images, but the acoustic world that Univers Zero is presenting us is a dark, nightly, rather solemn and sinister underworld made of ambiances and angst of finding sheer horror round the street corner in London’s smog late nineteenth century. The 14-min+ Ronde is a wild opener, with the violin taking first role, while the much shorter Carabosse (after the fairy-witch) is more in the space of Berckmans’ bassoon while Daniel Denis’ amazing and inventive drumming and percussions rules the backtracks.

If the first side of the vinyl was mostly Daniel Denis’ works, the second side will be Roger Trigaux’s oeuvre. Not that good old Roger’s “songwriting” is any lighter than Daniel’s, far from it, but his music is clearly more rhythmic and repetitive. As on the previous side, the music hovers between Stravinsky and Balkanic oriented “folk-classical” music with some strong Magma influencers (Denis did play for the group and remains nowadays a friend of the Vander tribe) and represents one of the best example of chamber rock. In some ways their music can be likened to early Gryphon (the acoustic and instrumental nature of the music), but UZ is nothing medieval.

Please note that Univers Zero’s music is not easily accessible to the average Joe and therefore cannot be easily recommended to everyone. But in their genre, this group represents peak of what can be done in that kind of music. And this is only their first album of a lenghty career. Certainly a more influential band than a popular one, Univers Zero is one of the gardians of the progressive music’s integrity.