Univers Zero


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1313 , 7/10
Heresie , 7/10
Ceux Du Dehors , 7/10
Uzed , 7/10
Heatwave , 8/10
Daniel Denis: Sirius And The Ghosts , 6/10
Daniel Denis: Les Eaux Troubles , 5/10
The Hard Quest , 6/10
Crawling Wind , 5/10
Rhythmix (2002), 6.5/10
Implosion (2004), 5/10
Clivages (2010), 5/10
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(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Univers Zero, formed in Belgium in 1974 by Daniel Denis (Arkham's drummer) and guitarist Roger Trigaux, concocted a sort of chamber fusion jazz-rock that was both refined and dramatic, usually scored for an ensemble of strings, harmonium, organ and bassoon. From the beginning they marked an important breakthrough for progressive-rock in that they assimilated rock music into classical and jazz formats (as opposed to the other way around).

Their mission was inaugurated with Univers Zero (Atem, 1977 - (Cryonic, 1984 - Cuneiform, 2008), recorded in august 1977 and reissued as 1313 which was the original catalog number. when they were a septet and their sound was still inspired by contemporary rock acts. The 15-minute Ronde revealed Daniel Denis as an eccentric, exuberant and erudite composer in the vein of Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat. The fantasia begins with a hybrid of neoclassical scherzo and minimalist repetition that soon turns into a Frank Zappa-esque fanfare. That begins a tortured, syncopated journey that alternates Berlioz-like pizzicato string passages and magniloquent horn and organ crescendoes, Ravel-like steps and folk dances, gypsy violin melodies and cabaret-like rhythms, ending in an expressionist nightmare of sustained tones. Michel Berckmans's bassoon, Marcel Dufrane's violin, Patrick Hanappier's viola and Emmanuel Nicaise's harmonium ran the gamut from clownish to high-brow, while Denis' conduction left little to chance.
Trigaux's Docteur Petiot is a more clownish piece with emphasis on trivial melodies and rhythms bordering on military marches and the music-hall. Strings and harpsichord dominate the middle-eastern saraband Malasie, also composed by Trigaux and also leaning towards the jovial end of the spectrum.
The CD reissue includes Denis' 28-minute La Faulx (april 1979), a jam that builds up slowly from some avant-noise improvisation to structured melodic and rhythmic patterns.

Heresie (1979) veered towards gothic atmospheres and discordant, industrial textures. Focusing on orchestration and production rather than on melody and harmony, Ceux Du Dehors (1982) and Uzed (1984) arrived at a smooth, stately, stylish and occasionally titanic flow of ideas. Capable of quoting and mixing stereotypes from atonal music as well as jazz-rock, minimalism as well as Eastern music, classical fantasias as well as requiems, the multiple tours de force of Heatwave (1986) rank among prog-rock's greatest achievements. Cinematic and suspenseful, elegant and dramatic, Daniel Denis' compositions for strings, woodwinds and keyboards coined a new kind of chamber music and jazz fusion.
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Heresie (Cryonic, 1979) mise a punto il meccanismo. Prendendo a pretesto un soggetto gotico, La Faulx procedeva per ventitre minuti a sperimentare ogni sorta di partitura. La piece si apre con un confuso brusio degli strumenti dell'orchestra, poi il cantante recita un esorcismo sulle note funeree del piano e prende piede una cadenza in crescendo da ballo delle streghe. Un tema spensierato di fagotto conduce in una marcia sbilenca, a meta` strada fra un balletto di Stravinsky e una suite di Ravel. Ma i contrappunti si fanno sempre piu` discordanti, riportando la musica nei gironi infernali da cui era partita. Jack The Ripper e` invece un brano piu` opprimente che orrifico, conteso fra spunti jazzrock e cadenze/fratture da industria pesante. Oltre alle percussioni di Denis e al fagotto di Berckamns sono in primo piano le tastiere di Roger Trigaux e il violino di Patrick Hanappier. Fu l'ultimo disco di Trigaux con gli Univers Zero.

Lo stile lambisce il sensazionalismo su Ceux Du Dehors (Recommended, 1982), con le incalzanti progressioni jazz-rock di Dense, l'apocalittico coro funebre di La Corne Du Bois Des Pendu e la nervosa piece espressionista di Combat.

Raffinata ulteriormente la produzione due anni dopo su Uzed (Recommended, 1984), il gruppo giungera` al manierismo di Heatwave (Recommended, 1986), disco orchestrato per un ensemble piu` moderno (due tastiere elettroniche, archi, fiati, chitarra, basso, batteria) e ricco di spettacolari tour de force elettronici come Chinavox. La titanica e tumultuosa Funeral Plain riassume e dilata otto anni di esperimenti: musica da camera atonale, jazz-rock, minimalismo, musica industriale, rondo` classici, orientalismi e cosi` via.

Il gruppo si sciolse l'anno dopo.

Meno austeri degli Art Zoyd, gli Univers Zero erano reminescenti del rock progressivo e dell'art-rock inglesi, ma non meno audaci nel tentare la fusione fra avanguardie classica e rock. Se gli Art Zoyd furono i Satie del rock, gli Univers Zero ne furono i Poulenc.

Trigaux aveva intanto formato con il pianista Alain Rochette i Present,

Da solo Denis ha composto Sirius And The Ghosts (Cuneiform, 1991), un album che non si discosta troppo dagli ultimi Univers Zero, ma che sfrutta con maggior consapevolezza le tecniche minimaliste e accentua la propulsione delle percussioni; e, due anni dopo, Les Eaux Troubles, un disco che apre decisamente nuovi orizzonti, sia per le incursioni di Les Portes e Second Presage nel jazz-rock piu` aggressivo, sia per le variazioni su temi folk delle Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances, sia (soprattutto) per i balletti cubisti di Strategeme e Electronica Mambo-Musette, condotti a ritmi spezzati, come se fossero stati campionati a intervalli discreti. Denis prosegue insomma il programma di trasferire tecniche e motivi dell'avanguardia nel corpus della musica rock.

A questo album fece seguito Les Eaux Troubles (Cuneiform, 1993).

Denis rimette insieme i suoi Univers Zero per The Hard Quest (april 1999 - Cuneiform, 1999), un disco che non sfigura al fianco delle opere classiche del gruppo. Denis e` rimasto il compositore sardonico e incontenibile di sempre, capace di spaziare dalla musica cerimoniale del Medioevo (Vieux-Manants) alle fanfare di Frank Zappa (Civic Circus, Rebus), dal jazz-rock (Affinite`) alla musica d'avanguardia (Kermesse Atomique). La lunga Xenantaya e` piu` che altro un tributo alla carriera stessa di Denis, al suo squisito gusto per l'arrangiamento, alle sue magistrali doti di direttore dell'ensemble, e alle sue innumerevoli fonti d'ispirazione.

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Crawling Wind (Cuneiform, 2000) collects a live performance and rare 1983 recordings.

Rhythmix (october 2001 - Cuneiform, 2002), the second album of new material since the 1999 reunion, displays Daniel Denis' further explorations into classical music. Ten musicians contribute to the album, and that accounts for the increasingly "orchestral" sound. Terres Noires employs a plethora of quotations from 20th century music and ends in the grotesque fashion of Frank Zappa's Orchestral Favourites. Shangai's Digital Talks, perhaps the most inventive piece here, is a sinister sketch, heavy on the keyboards' staccatos. The slow, repetitive Reve Cyclique smells of fauve ballets of a century before, updated to Sixties' minimalism and exotic jazz of the Fifties. The suave bassoon melody of The Invisible Light could be taken from a Cajkovsky ballet.
The album also features some of Denis' boldest experiments, like the percussive nightmare of Rouages, that weds Edgar Varese, Crash Worship and Mike Oldfield, or the orgiastic Emotions Galactiques, that mixes a frantic horns fanfare (sounding like a beehive), confused piano hammering and Steve Reich-ian wooden percussions.
The Fly-Toxmen's Land is the only track that clearly belongs to prog-rock (i.e., to rock music): emphatic, loud and exilarating.
Occasionally revolutionary, at times ahead of its time, always intriguing, rarely redundant, Denis' music continues to surprise and to entertain.

Implosion (Cuneiform, 2004) features Denis (drums, percussion, keyboard, samplers, accordion, guitar), Michel Berckmans (oboe, English horn, bassoon), Serge Bertocchi (saxes & tubax), Aurelia Boven (cello), Ariane De Bievre (flute, piccolo), Dirk Descheemaeker (bass clarinet, clarinet), Bart Maris (trumpet, flugelhorn), Eric Plantain (electric bass), Christophe Pons (acoustic guitar), Bart Quartier (marimba, glockenspiel), and Igor Semenoff (violin).

The fourth album since the reunion, Implosion (november 2003 - Cuneiform, 2004), released on the 30th anniversary of the band's birth, is not up to their standards. A few of the motifs are brilliant (Falling Rain Dance, Mellotronic), but most of the (short) pieces and even the nine-minute suite Meandres are mere reiterations of prog-rock cliches and, in any event, too fragmented to stand up as a whole. Partch's X-Ray is the notable exception: an avantgarde piece overflowing with intriguing solutions.

Live (june 2005)

Relaps (2008) collects previously unreleased live recordings from march 1984 to february 1986.

Clivages (may 2009 - Cuneiform, 2010) was a new studio album (Daniel Denis on drums, Michel Berckmans on bassoon, oboe and English horn, Kurt Budé on clarinet and alto sax, Pierre Chevalier on keyboards, Dimitri Evers on bass, Andy Kirk on guitar and Martin Lauwers on violin). The joyful orchestral fanfare that opens the work, Les Kobolds , contrasts starkly with the tragic tone of the suite that follows, the twelve-minute Warrior, that could be the expressionistic soundtrack to a horror movie, replete with hard-rock guitar, industrial rhythm and free-jazz horns. By the same token, the jazz and exotic overtones of the impressionistic carousel Soubresauts contrast starkly with the noir languor of the eight-minute bluesy lento Retour De Foire. In other words, this is an album of polar opposites, the neoclassical intermezzo Vacillements balancing the abstract electroacoustic intermezzo Earth Scream. The 14-minute Straight Edge embodies that split personality, alternating between dreamy brooding quiescence and thundering frenzied neurosis.

Univers Zero's 13th album Phosphorescent Dreams (2014) was performed by a new lineup, consisting of Antoine Guenet (keyboards), Nicolas Dechene (guitars), Dimitry Evers (bass), Kurt Bude (clarinets, alto and tenor saxes) Daniel Denis (drums).

Univers Zero returned with Lueur (Sub Rosa, 2023), performed by Daniel Denis (keyboards, drums, percussion), Nicolas Dechene (guitars), Kurt Bude (clarinets) and Nicolas Denis (bass, percussion, vocals).

Univers Zero's Guy Segers formed Eclectic Maybe Band that released Bars Without Measures (Discus, 2023), featuring Julie Tippetts, Dani Klein, Sibel Dincer and Daniel Vincke-Saz (vocals), Pierre Bernard (flute), Piet Van Bockstal (oboe), Stephan Kohr (bassoon), Martin Archer (saxello), Dirk Descheemaeker (clarinets), Joe Higham (clarinet and soprano sax), Mark Bogaerts (alto and baritone saxes), Dave Newhouse (baritone sax), Jean Pierre Soarez (trumpet), Franck Cottret (trombone), Marianne Denoia, Cecile Broche, Ariane Plumerel and Forrest Fang (violins), Thierry Zaboitzeff (cello), Michel Delory, Pierre Vervloesem, Michel Delville, Angel Ontalva and Matvi Bilis (guitars), Andy Kirk and Catherine Smet (keyboards), Sean Rickman, Fabrice Owerzarzak and Dirk Wachtelaer (drums).

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