(Cuneiform)

Like it or not, Daniel Denis’ Univers Zero are still here to indicate a main road that can’t be possibly be followed, in spite of several imitators willing to be fingered as pathetic photocopies of an unmatched original. Their sound hasn’t changed an iota in almost 35 years — we don’t feel a need for that, either — and, despite a major change in the lineup (only bassoonist Michel Berckmans and the returning guitarist Andy Kirk, besides the drumming-and-composing deus ex machina, were a part of earlier incarnations of the ensemble), Clivages runs amok in the terrifying streets where unforgiving progressive rock is influenced by the most hostile aspects of XX century chamber music. The newest members — all tremendous performers — include Kurt Budé, Pierre Chevalier, Dimitri Evers and Martin Lauwers, correspondingly lending hands on reeds, keyboards, bass, and violin.

This item is perhaps the one in UZ’s catalog that better balances the acoustic and the electric instances that made them legendary among the cognoscenti. An acidly dissonant cavalcade — Kirk’s “Warrior”, replete with distorted guitar lines and bass figurations that go for the listener’s jugular — is immediately replaced by the delicate grace of Berckmans’ “Vacillements”, reeds and strings disposed in such an aurally rewarding fashion that separating this set from a classic broken consort becomes a truly arduous task. The same composer puts his signature on the record’s artistic peak: the utterly magic “Retour De Foire”, mental calmness and harmonic perceptiveness meshing in spectacular contrapuntal receptivity. To this day, Denis is capable of paralyzing and enchanting at once, as established by the permutation of complex meters and airy piano chords typifying “Soubresauts”. Budé contributes with two scores, the skeletally sloping (and totally brilliant) “Three Days” and the initially unpretentious then morphing into quasi-devilish “Straight Edge”. In the conclusive “Les Cercles d’Horus”, added drums, accordion and cello are thrown in the recipe (respectively, Nicolas Denis, Philippe Thuriot and Aurelia Boven). It is important to point out that this is the first time that the leader saves a sizeable chunk of the compositional duties for other participants. You couldn’t really say that it makes a huge difference: all pieces are in fact complicatedly impressive, not for a moment inactive, consistently recharging our interior batteries.

 

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