The European reviewers refer to this ensemble as semi-classical. I think that would bring up an entirely erroneous sound-image for North American listeners. Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops this is not! There’s some similarity to the type of rock groups which were once popular in Europe doing rock versions of classical themes, but Univers Zero is way beyond that. They play all original music which partakes of Pink Floyd-type spacey rock, avant new music techniques, soundtrack scores and fusion jazz, among other things. The instrumentation looks like a modern chamber music ensemble, and that might be responsible for the semi-classical label: oboe, English horn, bassoon, clarinet, tenor sax, Melodica, violin. But add to that electric bass, various keyboards, drums and percussion. All the music is from the pen of the drummer in the sextet – Daniel Denis. From the names of the players the band appears to be Belgian. The band adds to their powerful impact with a multimedia projection show during their live performances.
The combination of the chamber music wind instruments with the electronic sounds and the rock rhythm section conjures up a fascinating musical environment that is unfamiliar but not unpalatable. The ensemble varies their dynamics frequently – sometimes reducing to a chamber music duo between, say, oboe and clarinet, that could come from Bartok or Legeti. They don’t come on with a continual high-dB attack like so many bands. Some of their rapid mood and rhythm-changes reminded me in several spots of a classic French LP which utilised tape music trickery – Elsa Popping’s Delirium in Hi-Fi. While this is Univers Zero’s first live CD, they have done nine previous albums for Cuneiform. How come I hadn’t heard of them before this?
Tracks: Xenantaya, Civic Circus, Electronika Mambo Musette, Kermesse Atomique, Bonjour chez vous, Meandres, Falling Rain Dance, Toujours plus a l’Est.
– John Henry