All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

372

Univers Zero: Live

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
While it's often lumped in with Rock in Opposition (RIO) groups like Henry Cow, there really are more differences than similarities between Belgium's Univers Zero and its British counterparts. Both share roots in chamber music—especially the 20th Century variety—and a disposition towards idiosyncratic compositions.

But Henry Cow also explored free improvisation and, especially when teamed up with members of Slapp Happy, a serious political agenda as well. Univers Zero, on the other hand, only provide space for improvisation within the confines of primary composer/percussionist Daniel Denis' complex through-composition. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on Univers Zero's latest release—the group's first live recording, despite the fact that it's been together for nearly twenty of the past thirty years.

Denis and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Michel Berckmans are the only remaining original members, but Univers Zero has still maintained a consistent sound, even as Denis' writing has moved some distance away from the relentless doom-and-gloom of the group's debut, 1313 (Atem, 1977). Unorthodox instrumentation—violin, oboe, bassoon, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, melodica and tenor saxophone—blends with a more conventional keyboards-bass-drums rhythm section, giving the sextet a broad range of textures to apply to a cross-section of material culled from albums dating back to 1981's acclaimed Ceux du DeHors.

"Xenantaya," from 1999's The Hard Quest, begins ominously—with oboe, clarinet and violin delivering a Middle Eastern-inflected theme over a brooding keyboard wash from Peter Van Den Berghe. But when Denis and bassist Eric Plantain enter with a powerful groove, Univers Zero comes closer to a rock aesthetic than Henry Cow ever did. Still, the periodic insertion of a gothic half-time phrase breaks up the groove, and Berckmans, violinist Martin Lauwers and Van Den Berghe each get room to stretch in an almost fusion-like fashion. Unlike Cow's anarchistic approach to improvisation, Univers Zero aligns itself to the concept of clear delineation.

Also from The Hard Quest, "Civic Circus"—with its medieval-like contrapuntal approach—suggests how Gentle Giant might have sounded had it leaned more towards the dark side. But whereas Giant's complex writing still revolved around conventional song form, with vocals part of the picture, Univers Zero's all-instrumental approach applies a broader-scoped classical aesthetic, where a piece might contain multiple movements that don't necessarily resurface again after their first appearance.

In fact, the two groups share much in common, despite the different instrumentation and the fact that Univers Zero's music is untarnished by the commercial aspirations that ultimately led to Giant's demise. With roots in classical music from multiple eras, often driven by a propulsive rhythm section, Univers Zero manages to make the obscure somehow strangely palatable, and even when the solos lean to the extreme, as they do on "Kermesse Atomique," there's a certain undeniable accessibility.

Of course, Denis' music presents its own form of challenge. But rather than alienate, Univers Zero draws the listener in, making Live a terrific place to start for those new to this truly progressive Belgian ensemble.


Track Listing: Xenantaya; Civic Circus; Electronika Mambo Musette; Kermesse Atomique; Bonjour Chez Vous; Meandres; Falling Rain Dance; Toujours Plus a L'est.

Personnel: Michael Berckmans: oboe, English horn, bassoon, melodica; Kurt Bude: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Daniel Denis: drums, percussion; Martin Lauwers: violin; Eric Plaintain: electric bass; Peter Van Den Berghe: keyboards.

Title: Live | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
 

Phosphorescent Dreams

Cuneiform Records
2014

buy
Heresie

Heresie

Cuneiform Records
2011

buy
Clivages

Clivages

Cuneiform Records
2010

buy
Relaps: Archives 1984-1986

Relaps: Archives...

Cuneiform Records
2009

buy
Relaps - Archives 1984-86

Relaps - Archives...

Cuneiform Records
2009

buy
Univers Zero

Univers Zero

Cuneiform Records
2008

buy

Related Articles

Read Good Music CD/LP/Track Review
Good Music
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: June 18, 2018
Read Jazz Tango CD/LP/Track Review
Jazz Tango
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: June 18, 2018
Read The Berlin Concert CD/LP/Track Review
The Berlin Concert
by Troy Dostert
Published: June 18, 2018
Read IMA IMA CD/LP/Track Review
IMA IMA
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: June 18, 2018
Read Breathe CD/LP/Track Review
Breathe
by Geannine Reid
Published: June 18, 2018
Read Stillness & Sirens CD/LP/Track Review
Stillness & Sirens
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 17, 2018
Read "The Street Doctor" CD/LP/Track Review The Street Doctor
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: January 26, 2018
Read "Live at Home" CD/LP/Track Review Live at Home
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 10, 2018
Read "Fukushima" CD/LP/Track Review Fukushima
by Karl Ackermann
Published: December 1, 2017
Read "Lantern" CD/LP/Track Review Lantern
by John Kelman
Published: June 26, 2017
Read "The Groove Hunter" CD/LP/Track Review The Groove Hunter
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: May 24, 2018
Read "25th Anniversary Project" CD/LP/Track Review 25th Anniversary Project
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: February 12, 2018