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Artist: Zaar

Album: s/t

Label: Cuneiform

Review date: Mar. 5, 2006

The development of what’s commonly referred to as 'prog' is a rather appropriate example of the dangers lurking behind that endlessly frustrating but equally convenient mode of artistic classification, the genre. During the nascent years of the term’s use, the music it was typically used to signify was certainly progressive, especially in contrast to the mainstream fare enjoyed by the populace of the time. However, as new generations of musicians have arisen, inspired by prog’s original innovators, the term 'prog' has found a home with groups who aren’t necessarily very progressive, especially when considered within the context of their influences and contemporaries within the greater realm of prog. And though it’s not usually with detriment to the enjoyment of their music, there exist groups who are little more than revival troupes, aping the styles of their ancestors (with good intentions, and often rather deftly), but adding little to the mix.

Zaar, a French quartet whose recently released debut found an American home in Cuneiform’s catalog, don’t fit so smoothly into the aforementioned collection of modern revivalists, they do sometimes come dangerously close. Comprised of guitarist Yan Hazera and drummer Michael Hazera, formerly of Sotos, as well as the talents of the succinctly named Cosia (hurdy gurdy) and Pairbon (bass), Zaar are well versed in the music of their proverbial fathers. Their debut repeatedly references the instrumental and chamber rock of some or their continental predecessors, intricate and erudite, though not with a void of emotion or a lack of occasional bombast. The disc is built around two extended pieces, “Sefir” and “Omk,” each over 15 minutes, with a series of shorter interludes and extrapolations in tow. The longer tracks are the disc’s strongest, where Zaar are able to showcase their compositional chops, and fully milk dynamic shifts and well-timed transitions to their full potential. The whole of the album, though, flows in a way that makes track times unimportant, and further utilization of the suite format, a familiar concept to any purveyors of prog, might have strengthened the album further. For all their talent, however, as composers and players, the band can lean a bit too heavily on a classic sound, and the wild card and truly progressive component in the Zaar equation is Cosia and his hurdy gurdy. Through the natural multiplicity of the instrument’s tonal palette and some tastefully applied effects, Cosia finds an adaptability and peculiarity that often makes his the most interesting of the track’s voices. He’s easily able to supersede what could be the simple novelty of the instrument to make the hurdy gurdy seem downright natural, even necessary, in the scope of Zaar’s sound.

Prog fans in search of new blood will likely delight in this album, and rightly so. Zaar’s take on prog sensibilities, with a twist in instrumentation and compositional flavor, do well to make intelligent music without over-intellectualizing it, and their occasional hints of French folk inspiration help to anchor the music in a more human sphere. And while they may not be strikingly progressive, Zaar, in today’s sense of the word, are a Prog band worth hearing.

By Adam Strohm

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