Univers Zéro – Univers Zéro (1313) – Cuneiform

by | Sep 9, 2008 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Univers Zéro – Univers Zéro (1313) – Cuneiform 1313, 65:07 ****:

(Michael Berckmans: Bassoon, Oboe; Daniel Denis: Percussion, Drums; Marcel Dufrane: Violin; Christian Genet: Bass; Patrick Hanappier: Violin, Viola, Pocket Cello; Emmanuel Nicaise: Harmonium, Spinet; Roger Trigaus: Guitar, Harmonium; Guy Segers: Bass, Vague Ramblings, Interstellar Chaotic Speech)

Although Belgium’s chamber rock band Univers Zéro is lumped into the general rock category, the ensemble should be more closely aligned with modern classical and the avant-garde. One listen to the avant-prog group’s debut, Univers Zéro – sometimes also referred to by its catalog number 1313 – unveils dense, creatively challenging material that was in direct opposition to the disco, punk, and other genres prevalent when the album was originally released in 1977.

Although the Univers Zéro record has been reissued numerous times, this is the definitive version. The five remastered and remixed tracks (plus one bonus piece), lifted from the original multi-track tape, reveal previously unnoticed details. The stereo effects glutting the 1989 CD have been deleted, replaced by a well-rounded resonance. The instrumental balance is improved, with distortions and uneven edits equalized. The intertwined motifs are more obvious. Also, the bass and guitar profit greatly, and seem more distinct. Overall, this remix enhances the music, giving a stronger definition of players acting together in a concentrated setting.

Fifteen-minute opener “Ronde” functions as a fulcrum. Raspy violins initiate a striding rhythm, followed by the bassoon, which serves as the tune’s melodic guide, and is an instrument prominent in Universe Zéro’s total sound. Drummer/leader/composer Daniel Denis contributes equilibrium and tonal coloring, periodically urging the proceedings along with his mobile rhythm. Like the other cuts, “Ronde” revolves and evolves, eventually shifting into a brief, violin-led frenzy. Throughout the song, an all-for-one interaction is the unwritten law; there are solo maneuvers, but “Ronde” is firmly encased within an overreaching compositional tension.

Some have criticized Univers Zéro as somberly sober and/or academically affected. However, this music is not pretentious in the customarily over-the-top progressive rock perpetrated by overkill achievers such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. As for the perceived auditory darkness, rakish morbid humor can be found in some pieces, particularly those written by guitarist Roger Trigaux. “Docteur Petiot” and “Malaise” both feature processional rhythms and keyboard interludes, with hints of Prokofiev’s élan or Shostakovich’s fortitude, as well as minimalist elements that could be mistaken for Philip Glass. On “Malaise,” the remastering work also strengthens Daniel Dennis’ drumming, which now vigorously resounds in concord with the bass.

The reissue’s momentous offering, though, is bonus “La Faulx,” a 30-minute live version of the dilated opening track from Univers Zéro’s sophomore outing, Heresie. It’s decisive post-midnight music. The opus is darker and more theatrically forlorn than anything else encountered on Univers Zéro. Bassist Guy Seger’s “interstellar chaotic speech” and the ensemble’s clamor and contortions, that alternate between contemplative and incendiary, create the aural equivalent of Jan Svankmajer’s surrealist cinema or filmmaker Michael Snow’s structuralism.


1 Ronde
2 Carabosse
3 Docteur Petiot
4 Malaise
5 Complainte
6 La Faulx

— Doug Simpson

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