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U-Z: Ultimate Zero - Live

John Kelman By

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Since returning to the progressive rock scene with a new group/EP—UKZ's Radiation (Globe Music, 2009), U.K. co-founder and Frank Zappa/Jethro Tull alum Eddie Jobson has been dealing with the same problems that every indie musician does: keeping a band together for less than regular touring. With UKZ in suspension, the keyboardist/violinist began touring U-Z—devoted to performing classic progressive rock and fusion music from back in the day—with a revolving-door including fellow legends, bassists Tony Levin and John Wetton, alongside younger but equally impressive players like drummer Marco Minnemann and guitarist Greg Howe. Ultimate Zero—Live is a 103-minute collection from U-Z's Poland, Russia and US tours, and for progressive rock fans, it's like winning the lottery.

Not only does U-Z deliver energetic performances of UK classics from its acclaimed debut, U.K. (Globe Music, 1978) and follow-up, Danger Money (Globe Music, 1979), it also performs a number of King Crimson classics, and a surprise from the Mahavishnu Orchestra discography, the incendiary "Awakening," from Inner Mounting Flame (Columbia, 1971). Through it all, Jobson's virtuosic keyboard work and even more staggering electric violin work suggests that his 25-year hiatus from the rigors of touring hasn't impacted his abilities in any way.

Ultimate Zero also represents Jobson's first reunion with Wetton after thirty years, and while the U.K. co-founder and alum from one of Crimson's most popular incarnations—the Larks' Tongues in Aspic (DGM Live, 1973) band from 1973-75—has had his share of problems over the years, he hasn't sounded this good since back in the day. This is likely the only time a live version of the energetic "One More Red Nightmare," from that Crimson's studio swan song, the iconic Red (DGM Live, 1975), will show up on record with one of the group's original members, and Wetton's vocal range and endurance surpasses even his best recorded Crimson performances. Red's influential, instrumental Nuevo metal title track also gets a high octane reading, and Wetton's voice is, again, spot on for Larks' Tongues in Aspic's soft ballad, "Book of Saturdays."

Levin, one of the most virtuosic groove-meisters in progressive rock, fires "Sahara of Snow Part II," from drummer Bill Bruford's classic One of a Kind (Winterfold, 1979), where Howe does his best Allan Holdsworth homage, but within the context of his own voice. If there's any criticism of Ultimate Zero, however, it's that Howe is largely relegated to imitation—Fripp on the Crimson material, and Holdsworth on the U.K. tracks, even copping the solo to "In the Dead of Night" note-for-note, and tone-for-tone.

But it's a small quibble across a set list that, fired by Minnemann's stunning kit work, is a progressive rock fan's wet dream. Other than a few brief solo features, there's nothing new about Ultimate Zero—Live, but its committed and passionate tribute to some of progressive rock's classic music makes it absolutely relevant, at a time when it's no longer an embarrassment to be a pathologically professed proghead.

Track Listing: CD1 (U): Alaska; Presto Vivace; In the Dead of Night; Starless; Zero 1 (Ric); Book of Saturday; Zero 2 (Marco); One More Red Nightmare; Caesar's Palace Blues; Sahara of Snow Part II. CD2 (Z): Zero 3 (Tony); Red; Zero 4 (Trey); Awakening; Zero 5 (Eddie: Ice Festival, Theme of Secrets, Prelude); Carrying No Cross; The Only Thing She Needs; Nevermore (ending).

Personnel: Eddie Jobson: keyboards and electric violin (CD#1-5, CD1#8-10, CD2#1-8); John Wetton: vocals, bass and acoustic guitar (CD1#3-4, CD1#6, CD1#8-10, CD2#6-8); Tony Levin: stick (CD1#3-4, CD1#6, CD#8-10, CD2#7-8); Greg Howe: guitar (CD1#1-4, CD1#8-10, CD2#2, CD2#4, CD#7-8); Trey Gunn: touch guitar (CD2#3-4); Ric Fierabracci: bass (CD1#1-2 CD1#5, CD2#2); Simon Phillips: drums (CD2#4); Marco Minnemann: drums (CD1#1-4, CD1#7-10, CD2#2, CD2#4, CD2#6-8).

Title: Ultimate Zero - Live | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Globe Music

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