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Relaps: Archives 1984-1986

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Album Review

Cuneiform's long relationship with Belgian composer/drummer Daniel Denis and Univers Zero has yielded some spectacular releases over the years, not the least of which was the gloriously remastered version of the seminal 1313 album re-released in 2008. Relaps is another chapter in the archival recordings of Univers Zero. It documents concert recordings of two different lineups during the band's transitional years, and the ones that presaged their lengthy — though gratefully temporary — hiatus from recording and touring between 1986-1999. There are four shows and two different lineups of UZ on display here. First up are a pair of performances from a quintet version of UZ that includes Denis on drums, new keyboardist Jean-Luc Plouvier (who replaced Andy Kirk, original keyboardist and one of the band's two composers), Dirk Descheemaekeron reeds and winds, bassist Christian Genet, and cellist and alto saxophonist André Mergenthaler (aka André Mergen). This edition of the band recorded 1984's studio offering, Uzed. These two performances recorded in Germany and in Belgium in February and March of that year include live renditions of three selections from that album: "L'Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz," "Présage," and "Parade," with a long excerpt from "Legne Claire," a new and unrecorded composition from Denis. What is so striking about these tracks is the stark difference between this band and the previous version that recorded Ceux du Dehors. This is a much more electric UZ. The dirty sound of the DX-7 and Genet's electric bass add numerous textural elements to Denis' tunes, and a much more powerful range of dynamics, without changing the overall sophistication and scope of either arranging or playing.

The latter version of UZ, recorded in 1985 and 1986, has been expanded to include electric guitarist Michel Delory, and the return of Kirk as a second keyboardist. Violinist and violist Patrick Hanappier replaces Mergenthaler. This group is the ultimate version of UZ in a live context. The contrasting keyboard sounds — form the harsh synthetic sounds of Plouvier to the more classical and vanguard jazz orientations of Kirk, add a dimensionality that changes the entire feeling of UZ's attack. Delory is a minimal player; his interactions with the rhythm section — particularly with Genet — offer a much more sinister and menacing quality to the music. The transformation of "Emanations," from the Uzed album, is simply shocking. There are two longish Kirk compositions from this period, the title track of 1986's Heatwave, recorded in performance at a festival in Belgium a year earlier, and the nearly 20-minute masterpiece "The Funeral Plain," which closed the same album. These early versions are still a bit rough around the edges, but contain an adventurousness, eagerness, and wildness that may have been bred out during the studio recording process. The set's final track is a much looser — almost free improv — version of "L'Etrange Mixture du Docteur Schwartz." It's quite brief and under five minutes, but it does magnify the sense of possibility and vision this version of UZ was capable of bringing across to a live audience at this time. The sound quality on Relaps is a little less than stellar — it can be a tiny bit thin in places — but nonetheless makes for very satisfying listening. Given that these are historical recordings that were not necessarily cared for in a proper archival environment, that they sound as fine as they do is quite remarkable. For anyone who has been interested in this band, this set is simply indispensable. For anyone who has read the name or heard it being bandied about in the same breath as Art Zoyd, Magma, or even King Crimson, this volume is well worth investigating.


Formed: 1974

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Formed in 1974, Belgium-based chamber rock band Univers Zero initially featured co-composers drummer Daniel Denis and guitarist Roger Trigaux joined by bassoonist Michel Berckmans, violinist Marcel Dufrane, bassist Christian Genet, violinist/violist Patrick Hanappier, and harmonium/spinet player Emmanuel Nicaise. The avant-prog group, one of the first Rock in Opposition bands along with Britain's Henry Cow, Sweden's Samla Mammas Manna, Italy's Stormy Six, and France's Etron Fou Leloublan, released...
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Relaps: Archives 1984-1986, Univers Zéro
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