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Progrock: Alex Maguire Sextet, Univers Zero, Zinkl

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ALEX MAGUIRE SEXTET: Brewed in Belgium (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2008 features 59 minutes of progressive jazz music recorded live in Rijkevorsel, Belgium on October 27, 2007.

The band line-up: Alex Maguire (who was in Pip Pyle’s Bash, and the 2004-06 reformation of Hatfield & the North) (on acoustic piano and synthesizers), Jean-Paul Estivienart* (on trumpet and flugelhorn), Robin Verheyen (on saxophones), Damien Polard* (on bass), Laurent Delchambre* (on drums), and Michel Delville* (on synth guitar). (*) all come from the Belgian band the Wrong Object.

The first track is an extended piano solo of delicate beauty with intermittent percussion embellishment. The piano gradually moves into more energized expressions, ultimately achieving an impassioned climax. Sax comes in to emphasize the conclusion, as a segue into the gig’s jazzy tuneage.

The keyboards provide choppy jazz sweeps and nimble-fingered melodies that wind through the mix.

The horns comprise the main body of the music, wailing in expert conjunction and communicating exuberant joy. There’s no mournful melancholy here, as the brass capture a whimsical activity and convey that bliss with enthusiastic euphoria.

The drums are quite hyperactive, generating intricate rhythms with steadfast delivery. In typical jazz fashion, the drums act as an individual instrument, meshing with things instead of providing a locomotion for the melodies. This immersion lends a liquid property to the music.

The guitar provides periodic fusion with searing riffs that snarl with bestial vitality.

While most time bass guitars lurk hidden in the music, here the bass excels at making itself heard, contributing rumbling enhancement to the tunes. The gritty rumble possesses an earthy quality that nicely grounds the rest of the instruments’ frantic nature.

These compositions merge jazz sensibilities with a modern touch, creating tuneage of an animated disposition. The complexity of things can be remarkably mesmerizing, broken only when the players allow each other to take the spotlight for accompanied solos of alluring satisfaction.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Relaps (Archives 1984-1986) (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2009 features 70 minutes of intense live rock in opposition.

For the 1984 tracks, Univers Zero consisted of: Daniel Denis (on drums), Dirk Descheemaeker (on clarinet and saxophone), Christian Genet (on bass), Andre Mergenthaler (on cello and saxophone), and Jean-Luc Plouvier (on keyboards). For the tracks from 1985-96, Michel Delroy (on guitar), Patrick Hanappier (on violin and viola), and Andy Kirk (on additional keyboards) were added to the previous band line-up.

Imagine chamber music given a healthy injection of ominous overtones and a progressive boost--and you have an idea of what Univers Zero sound like. In their day, the band were considered a proponent of the Rock in Opposition movement, striving to express tuneage in direct contrast to commercial rock or pop.

A bevy of horns generate a frantic wall of brass that is in constant attack mode. While the instruments convey a taste of jubilation, their more sincere emotion is one of frenzied agitation.

The drums serve to enhance this agitation with a steadfast delivery of urgent rhythms, complex and insistent and furious.

The violin and viola establish an air of dire consequences, transforming normally classical moods into haunted recitals. The cello only accentuates this funereal demeanor, providing a low-end level of stress full of dark omens.

The keyboards produce a level of uneasy tension, while at other times they provide a contrasting whimsical frolic with twinkling keys.

The bass rumbles with geological proportions, lending a thunderous undercurrent that churns the listener’s stomach with anxiety.

The guitar is quite volcanic in its blazing eruptions, providing traces of rock amid the seething fusion of wrathful jazz.

For all these darkside tendencies, there is a definite ebullience to these music. While menace is overtly present, the tunes celebrate a sense of intensity devoted to life by concentrating on dark sensibilities. The compositions are intricate and cerebral, full of surging passages that suddenly undergo rapid signature changes. A constant level of intensity is accomplished; even the lulls are drenched with dramatic anticipation of the next furious outburst.

This release offers a wonderful taste of the band’s live persona (from two stages of its tenure). decorative rule

ZINKL: Now? (CD on Zinkl Music)

This release from 2008 offers 48 minutes of amiable progressive music.

German musician Anton Zinkl plays all the instruments on this release. Many of them may be synthesized, but their sound is crisply crafted so that they sound natural. There are no vocals, allowing the tunes to express themselves in a pure sense.

Keyboards play a central role in this music. The definition is varied, from harpsichord to electric organ to piano. These keyboard contributions often become buried by the profusion of other instruments, but they establish a durable foundation that is constant and bewitching.

Meanwhile, percussion provides delicate locomotion with soft rhythms that lurk within the mix and are hardly demonstrative. A tasty aspect is how these tempos are not constant but appear only when needed to enhance the melodies.

Guitar contributes a molten presence that lends a rock mien with progressive subtlety, while at other times the guitar adopts a gentle persona as it provides almost acoustic punctuation. There’s even some popping funky basslines.

You’ll find harp, flutes and other woodwinds, violins, and horns here too. The harp lends a gypsy flair to the tunes. The woodwinds bestow the music with a pastoral air. While the violins evoke a classical mood that excellently contrasts with the bouncy attitude exhibited by most of the songs. The horns inject a laid-back jazzy disposition with their understated brass.

Zinkl has a way of employing complexity that results in a simple and straightforward sound. The instruments restrain themselves to focused statements and then remain silent to allow the other instruments to have their say. By arranging these variegated expressions, an alluring and comfortable intricacy is achieved.

These compositions possess a congenial buoyancy, almost jovial at times (albeit tempered by a hint of intellectual resolve). This fusion of cheer and cerebral is delightful, producing tuneage that stimulates one’s cognitive abilities while putting a smile on one’s face.

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