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Zao (France) - 1975 - "Shekina"
(41 min, "Musea")


******
Tracklist:

1. Joyl 3:52
2. Yen-Lang 8:07
3. Zohar 10:54 
4. Metatron 8:15 
5. Zita 4:34 
6. Bakus 5:12

All tracks: by Sefer, except 1 & 5: by Cahen.

Line-up:

Yochko Seffer - saxophones & clarinets; vocalizes
Francois "Faton" Cahen - keyboards
Gerard Prevost - electric bass
Jean-My Truong - drums
With:
Pierre Guignon - percussion 

Guest musicians (on tracks 2, 3, & 5)

Michele Margand - violin
Marie-Francoise Viaud - violoncello 
Francoise Douchet - viola
Claudine Lassere - cello 

Produced by P. Legros, Cahen, & Seffer.
Recorded & mixed by Andy Scott at "IP Studio".

Prologue. Last week I received from Bernard Gueffier, the manager of Musea Records, a few of those legendary albums of French Progressive that I was eager to listen to since 1997, when I discovered such a wonderful source as the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock. These are: Carpe Diem's "En Regardant Passer le Temps", "Halloween" by Pulsar, "Tertio" by Atoll, Halloween's "Le Festin" (this time, I decided to choose their latest album instead of "Merlin"), and the hero of this review, the third Zao album "Shekina". While I am at least a little acquainted with the creation of most of the said bands (the only exception being Carpe Diem), I did not have the opportunity to hear these very albums by them before. (Within the next two weeks, I'll return to reviewing the relatively recent and new CD releases by Musea.)

The Album. Unlike many of the other progressive reviewers, I regard Zeuhl as the early form of the French-school RIO. (Saying so, I always imply only the musical constituent of this genre.) And the band that pioneered Zeuhl was, in my view, Moving Gelatine Plates (MGP hereafter), the debut album of which was released in 1971, i.e. a few years before the appearance of the term itself. The stylistics of the debut Zao album, "Z=7L" (1973), was in many ways close to that of MGP and represented a unique Jazz-Fusion with elements of Art-Rock and those that later became the main features of RIO. Certainly, the music that was typical for MGP and Zao was more structured and less dissonant than that of Soft Machine (in 1970-1972) and Henry Cow / Art Bears (in general). Here, in my view, lies the only major difference between the English and French schools of RIO. What's curious is that the English movement of RIO (which was by no means large, though) becomes almost completely breathless with the beginning of the expansion of Punk, etc. Whereas the French RIO movement, joined in by Belgium's bands Cos, Univers Zero and Present (later by Blast, another French band NeBeLNeST, and the others), is not only still alive and well, but also continues to develop constantly. Well, it's time to return to Zao and their third album. There is a huge difference between this and the band's debut "Z=7L". The typical RIO textures are clearly evident on "Shekina", though they are present only on those compositions that were composed by Yochko Seffer, the musician of Hungarian origin. These are Yen-Lang, Zohar, Metatron, and Bakus (2, 3, 4, & 6; taken together, they last about 33 minutes). All of them were created within the framework of a unified stylistics, the definition of which, should, in my view, sound the next way. This is a unique blend of RIO, Classic Symphonic Art-Rock, and Jazz-Fusion. The dramatically tense atmosphere that later became one of the hallmarks of RIO is predominant in the arrangements on all four of Seffer's pieces. Though the contents of Yen-Lang and Zohar, both of which feature also a female string quartet led by Michele Margand, are closer to the classic RIO sound than those of Metatron and Bakus. The main soloing instruments on "Shekina" are electric and acoustic pianos, an organ, bass guitar, drums (the drumming is just fantastic here), saxophones, and clarinets. However, both of the brass instruments and a bass guitar are in the foreground of the arrangements on most compositions. The exceptions are the album's last two pieces, Zita (by Cahen) and Bakus, both of which were performed without brass instruments at all. The first of them is also the only composition on the album that doesn't contain the parts of drums. Filled with the slow and soft, yet, very diverse interplay between passages of piano and violins and solos of bass guitar, Zita is a bit unusual, but very beautiful piece of Classical Academic Music. (There is, however, another important constituent of the arrangements on Zita, to which I'll return a bit later.) The second (and the last) piece that is out of the album's predominant stylistics, Joyl (1), was also written by Francois Cahen. Although this composition has a rather obvious jazzy feel to it, I am sure that all the improvisations of electric piano, saxophone, clarinet, and bass guitar that are featured there were thoroughly composed. In fact, though, there are enough of the symphonic textures on Joyl as well to define its stylistics as a real Jazz-Fusion (i.e. the fusion, or confluence, of Jazz and any forms of Symphonic Progressive). Back to the last two tracks on the album, Zita and Bakus, do not think that Yochko Seffer didn't participate in the performance of them if none of the brass instruments were used there. His high-pitched vocalize sounds like a real soloing instrument, along with the others, throughout both of the said pieces. As I've already mentioned above, all four of the compositions that were penned by Seffer are filled with very diverse, intensive, and truly hard-edged arrangements of a high

Summary. Of course, above all, "Shekina" is an incredibly interesting, by all means brilliant album, - a real honey to soul of a true connoisseur of progressive music. For all the open-minded lovers of Prog, which is traditionally regarded as classic, it can become a very significant stage on the way to comprehending the more (and more) complex forms of music - up to Avant-garde Academic Music. Really, if I were the music teacher, I would definitely check the presence of "Shekina" in a collection of each of the promising pupils - at least on a cassette.

VM. July 29, 2002


Related Links:

"Musea Records" web-site & online store: http://www.musearecords.com/


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