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Univers Zero - Live

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Artist: Univers Zero

Album: Live

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Feb. 13, 2006

When I saw the Belgian band Present last summer, they were tighter and rocked harder than I’d heard on any album. “Damn,” I thought, “why can’t founding member Roger Trigaux’s former band, Univers Zero, bring that kind of noise?” It turns out that they were doing just that, and this new live disc is simply the most revitalizing rejuvenating UZ experience I’ve had in years.

One of the pioneers of late 1970s “Chamber” rock, or what continues to be called Rock in Opposition, I had certainly never associated raw unadulterated improv with the fastidious compositions for which UZ is deservedly respected; I even found the three discs since their 1999 resurgence somewhat timbrally lackluster, if still technically engaging. The live disc, recorded in June of last year, captures a band whose ability to stretch out meshes perfectly with astonishing precision. From the very opening moments of “Xenantaya,” taken from UZ’s comeback album The Hard Quest, a certain rigidity is thankfully and permanently absent. Gone are the theatrically ominous vocals in favor of an understated but effective keys-and-winds rendering of the melody; check out drummer and group founder Daniel Dennis’s fills, ruffling the tune’s somber modality with bits of whimsy, on the heels of which the other members are only too ready to follow. This track begged for improv, and there were certainly instances of it in the studio take, but the live version is over two minutes longer, sporting stunning improves by keyboardist Peter Van Den Berg and reedsman Kurt Bude, who adds a fittingly Coltranesque jazzy flavor to the proceedings. This version now eclipses its studio counterpart in every respect.

While much of the material on Live is culled from recent efforts, the energy level is kept high, making me rethink my opinions of the newer Denis compositions. However, the disc ends, surprisingly, with a look back at “Toujours Plus a L’est” from the once-rare EP Crawling Wind. The new lineup’s incorporated a gorgeously expansive chamber improv just before the piece rips back into the final gear, and the contrast is mesmerizing and thrilling.

Apart from monster playing and arrangements, the recorded sound could not be better. It’s immediate and lush, detailed and unified, giving free reign to timbre without sacrificing the clarity of any formal or structural concerns. Cuneiform deserves thanks and congratulations, both for this document and for its long championing of a band that I was afraid had lost its relevance.

By Marc Medwin

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