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Zao - Z=7L CD (album) cover

Z=7L

Zao

 

Zeuhl

3.45 | 50 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars From the bubbling pools of Kobaian energy emerged France's first and foremost original early progressive rock / jazz-fusion act extraordinaire that proved to progophiles all the world over that not all progressive rock needed to be derived from the English stockpile. Magma emerged in 1969 Paris and released their first two albums and another under the Univeria Zekt moniker before the band ended the first phase of their lineup and began spinning off many splinter groups over their decades long run. The first of these was ZAO which was immediately formed by Hungarian born Yochk'o Seffer (sax, clarinet) who left the band due to a power shift leaving Christian Vander in control of the band's musical direction that spawned the birth of their classic "Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh" and beyond. Soon François Cahen (piano) would join him and they would form ZAO with the original intent to create music in the vein of the first two Magma albums "Kobaia" and "1001 Degrees Fahrenheit." Wasting no time the duo rounded up several musicians including the phenomenal drum maestro Jean-My Truong from Seffer's jazz-fusion project Perception and they released their debut album Z=7L alongside Magma's "MDK" in 1973.

If you are familiar with any Magma album, then you will instantly recognize that this was spawned from the greater Magma universe for there is nothing quite like the zeuhl style of avant-prog that only Kobaians from that far away world could create. The similarities are quite striking with the stunning operatic diva duties of Mauricia Platon in the spotlight and the jazz-fusion meets avant-prog virtuosity of the accompanying musicians, but what is even more striking are the differences from any given Magma album. While the intent was to create more of what came before from the first two Magma albums, the truth is more that ZAO engaged in a convergent evolution with Magma advancing similar ideas but with radically different approaches. While Z=7L may sound like the sister release of "MDK" simply because of the dominance of a dramatic diva with the spaced out musical fury of the frenetic zeuhl instrumentation, the fact is that this variety of zeuhl sounds more Earth-bound than the otherworldly visions of Christian Vander's Kobaian odyssey.

Love her voice or not, one can only admit that Mauricia Platon has an absolutely phenomenal vocal ability. She sounds kinda like a space age Ella Fitzgerald meets Cecilia Bartoli for her ability to perform operatic scat vocals with a sense of über-control that is only comparable to the prodigious vocal command of Yma Sumac which is nothing short of amazing. Her ability to wail up and down the scales weaving her magic around the exceptional instrumental section is the magic of this release. While Magma leads the listener more into the realms of rock opera, ZAO delivers more of a jazzy fusionist's paradise that revels in bombarding one with unexpected time signatures and tempo changes and more of a feel like a Kobaian Flora Purim gone wild with an air of early Return To Forever Chick Corea type keyboards alongside with Mahavishnu Orchestra electric violin runs. And of course i can't forget to mention the beautifully woven in sax and clarinet parts all punctuated by the intensely precise percussive talents of Jean-My Truong who quite possibly matches if not exceeds Vander's abilities.

While Magma themselves are hardly a household name around the world finding itself in the more esoteric parts of the prog universe, ZAO is even less known. In fact very little info can be found about this band at all and it remains obscure even within the niche market in which it resides. I have to admit that i came to my first taste of ZAO long after my familiarity with virtually the entire Magma canon and found this to be a little jarring upon first listen simply because it takes many of the Magma-isms and incorporates them into its musical structures but after a few spins the original aspects started jumping out at me and successfully differentiated themselves from that other better known zeuhl creation. I find Z=7L to be an excellent example of a splinter group taking the parts they contributed to their previous band and recontextualizing them within a new paradigm and ZAO pulls it off with flying colors. True it is most likely a grower for most because for the entire run of this album it sounds something like a classic 40s vocal jazz diva crossed with the neo-noir alien diva heard in the movie Dark City, so basically i find this to sound like nothing else even within the tiny niche of zeuhl. The musicianship is nothing short of outstanding and once the listener calibrates his or her ears to the vocal shrillness and eclectic musical developments, it actually becomes quite intoxicating.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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