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ZAO

Zeuhl • France


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Zao biography
ZAO was founded at the beginning of the seventies by Yochk'o "Jeff" Seffer (saxophone, clarinet) and François "Faton" Cahen (pianos), both ex-members of MAGMA's first era, that includes "Kobaïa" (1970), "1001 ° centigrades" (1971) and "Uniweria Zekt-the Unnamables" (1972).
If one regard MAGMA as the central trunk of the Zeuhl tree, ZAO would be equivalent to an early side branch very close to the stock. ZAO's music, at least at the beginning of their career, is therefore an extension of MAGMA's first era, with a light music, at times weird, with hints of jazz, contemporaneous music, Hungarian folk (Yochk'o is a native of Hungary) and obviously of Zeuhl. Nothing in common with the absolute incantatory power of "MDK" and "Kohntarkhosz" to which Yochk'o Seffer and François Cahen didn't want to contribute.

In the first album, "Z = 7L" (1973), the very complex melodic instrumental layers are enriched with the wonderful voice of Mauricia Platon (with its kobaïan accents), but unfortunately she was missing on the follow-up "Osiris" released in 1975.

ZAO will break from its Zeuhl roots and the music will lean towards some jazz-rock fusion more and more debatable and debated.

"Shekina" (1975) augmented by the presence of a string quartet and "Kawana" (1976) remain respectable albums of the French jazz-rock fusion scene but "Typhareth" (1976) recorded just after Yochk'o Seffer left the band is of little interest. ZAO will then split but the members will gather anew in 1994 with the release of "Akhenaton" (once more jazz-fusion inflected), the album that saw the band reform but without any follow-up. It seems that the band planned to reform this year (2004) with the return of Yochk'o Seffer. To be continued ? Moreover, we can note that ZAO's bassist, Joël Dugrenot, will join for a short while the French symphonic progressive band CLEARLIGHT.

Among the solo albums, let's consider Yochk'o Seffer's "Ghilgoul" (1979), strange atmospheres, dissonant music and the presence of Zeuhl in some tracks.

::: Tauhd Zaïa ::: (Many thanks to Lucas for the English translation)

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ZAO discography


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ZAO top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.47 | 64 ratings
Z=7L
1973
3.84 | 60 ratings
Osiris
1975
3.84 | 57 ratings
Shekina
1975
4.11 | 55 ratings
Kawana
1976
3.63 | 34 ratings
Typhareth
1977
3.08 | 19 ratings
Akhenaton
1994
3.89 | 9 ratings
Zao Family
2006

ZAO Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.64 | 14 ratings
Zao - Live!
1976
3.44 | 10 ratings
Zao In Tokyo
2007
3.88 | 5 ratings
Ethnic 3 Live
2008

ZAO Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Live At The Triton
2009

ZAO Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

ZAO Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.00 | 2 ratings
Bakus
1975

ZAO Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Typhareth by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1977
3.63 | 34 ratings

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Typhareth
Zao Zeuhl

Review by bartymj

3 stars After Kawana, the trio that stood out most (Seffer, Truong, Lockwood) departed, leaving just Cahen and Prevost from that lineup. Replacing the sax talents of Seffer and the drumming of Truong is nigh on impossible, but they did it as best they could by drifting further into a standard Jazz style than ever before. The Zeuhl influence is completely gone really (although it might not be out of place on Magma's debut album).

It feels a little bit "safe" and so probably doesn't either wow or offend fans of Zeuhl and/or Jazz. But the highlight is definitely the opener 'Merci Jacky'. The 12 minute title track is slow and atmospheric and to be honest I found it a bit boring. They probably knew some people would think that as Troupeau De Bisons Sous Un Crane is a short happy clappy bit of classic funky jazz music. Binah is back to more atmospheric, a nice track but little more than that, and Les Temps Changent is a synth heavy lounge track.

It was encouraging after the first track, then I got a bit bored and it never quite picked up again. A shame for a group that to me delivered a few great tracks but surrounded by filler.

 Kawana by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.11 | 55 ratings

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Kawana
Zao Zeuhl

Review by bartymj

4 stars Replacing a string quartet from the previous album with solo violinist Didier Lockwood and seemingly losing nothing shows just how good he was. This is a great album from Zao, all the more gutting that Seffer decided to go it alone afterwards. Not a huge amount of Zeuhl content to speak of though

The opener Natura is my favourite Zao track - tightly constructed jazz rock with dark undertones and a slight nod to Zeuhl, great interplay between Seffer and Lockwood. That interplay increases tenfold on the next track Tserouf, which is at a faster pace, starting with a funk theme but breaking into quick and tight jazz improvisation.

F.F.F. is a drum-free break, sounding a little extra-terrestrial to begin with thanks to Cahen's dark piano chords, added to by violin. A really nice change of pace after the previous two tracks but we then return to the tight jazz fusion theme, but definitely without getting 'samey'; Kabal including some good synth work backed up by the usual sax & violin.

Sadie is a looser, slower track built to showcase the saxophone - potentially a sign of Seffer's desire to go solo.

Free Folk opens up with a strange choir chorus that's almost Zeuhl but not quite. Its a fairly relaxed track for the first half before a gradual pick up of pace almost to chaotic levels with heavy bass and drumming before returning to the choral vocals. Lockwood's violin half way through is excellent, and this is also the first time we really hear the tight drumming of Truong who has been surprisingly 'background noise' up to this point.

Just squeezes into 4 stars for me - one of a few Zao albums where I'd listen repeatedly all the way through, but marks off for not showcasing Truong's drumming better, and sometimes the jarring saxophone gets a bit much

 Shekina by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.84 | 57 ratings

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Shekina
Zao Zeuhl

Review by bartymj

3 stars Bassist Joel Dugrenot moves on and is replaced, and the electric violin of Jean-Yves Rigaud is replaced by a full string quartet. This leaves Seffer as the only vocalist, so the Zeuhl-style vocals are pretty limited at this point. Its alsmost pure Jazz fusion at this point, that said the Zeuhl links are still there, particularly the precise drumming of Truong, who once again shows his talent perhaps only surpassed by Vander himself in this style.

Joyl - a jazz groove, very good but not Zeuhl Yen-lang - Atmospheric, has a minimalist Zeuhl feel to start before a pulsating but slow second half driven by the bass and string quartet Zohar - Sudden change of gear with everyone at full tilt. Truong's brilliant drumming is at the fore. The string quartet then take over on their own for a dramatic tension builder. Then its the turn of the percussion and keys, with Truong back jamming away. Metatron - Again really impressive from Truong, some Zeuhl-ish vocals thrown in, and a great fast paced track Zita - Suddenly calm and peaceful again. A soprano voice, strings and keys. Bakus - Quite an avant-jazz track, but more brilliance from Truong.

The drumming is 4 stars, as a Zeuhl album its 3, as a Zeuhl-related Jazz Fusion... 3.5.

 Osiris by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.84 | 60 ratings

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Osiris
Zao Zeuhl

Review by bartymj

3 stars The second Zao album retained the core Zeuhl-related lineup led by Seffer & Cahen, but the scatty female vocals of Mauricia Platon were replaced by Seffer and bassist Dugrenot, with additional percussion provided by Marc Chantereau and Pierre Guignon.

Like the debut album, Osiris is linked to the early jazzy Zeuhl style of Kobaia/1000 Centigrades rather than the later 'dark' Zeuhl of MDK which followed Seffer/Cahen's departure.

The opening track Shardaz is perhaps the most Zeuhl, scatty wordless vocals over a repetitive rhythm, but is also possibly the weakest. The group is at its best playing more 'developed' jazz arrangements such as Isis which builds slowly from a bass riff into a rolling jazz number, but without too much to recognise it as Zeuhl. Reinna is shorter and similar, but with a return of the vocals for a more Zeuhl-like track, and combining the best bits of Shardaz/Isis to create what is the best song for me. Yog - the most Zeuhl, and the most dramatic sounding track, I particularly like Truong's drumming here, and this is by far the next best. La Rhune unfortuantely goes back to the style of Shardaz, where nothing really develops and the album ends pretty weakly....

...BUT thankfully there's now a bonus track. Montreal is a really great live Jazz track with some Zeuhl elements, and its pretty much worth buying/listening to the album just for it. Guest female vocals, not sure who it is, but it complements the excellent saxophony from Seffer and some great percussion.

The album itself, 2.5 stars, but the bonus track lifts it to a solid 3-3.5.

 Z=7L by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.47 | 64 ratings

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Z=7L
Zao Zeuhl

Review by bartymj

3 stars As many have said, Zao are an offshoot of the first phase of "Zeuhl-lite" Magma led by Yochk'o Seffer and Francois Cahen, who were present on Magma's first two albums.

Released in the same year as Magma's MDK, Zao's debut album represents the first genuine divergence of Zeuhl as a genre, with Magma going darker and Zao retaining the jazzier lighter style of the Magma debut Kobaia.

Mauricia Platon, who sadly doesn't appear on later albums, provides scatty Zeuhl-ish Jazz Opera lyrics in a much more playful style than Magma's often doom-laden later albums. Her range is excellent, as is the electric violin of Rigaud which also adds something a bit different but only lasts one more album.

I won't go through track by track as there's little to choose between them. But as an entry point into Zeuhl this would be a pretty good one, embracing many jazz elements and even some early 70s funk (aided by the electric piano/violin). Despite her range though, having Platon has a sole vocalist does make things a little samey - it could perhaps do with a male equivalent to add some variety.

 Kawana by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.11 | 55 ratings

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Kawana
Zao Zeuhl

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars With a line-up of musicians such as this you really shouldn't go wrong:

- François Cahen / Yamaha acoustic piano, Fender electric piano, Korg synthesizer - Didier Lockwood / acoustic & electric violin, artianal bass violin - Gérard Prévost / Fender bass, hors phase bass, acoustic bass - Yochk'o Seffer / Soprano & Sopranino saxes, vocals, piano on F.F.F. - Jean-My Truong / orange double drums

1. "Natura" (7:03) sounds so much like a modern Pat Metheny Group epic--but it pre-dates all that! Piano, chunky and jazzy bass, and nasal soprano (sopranino?) sax all sound good together. Jean-My is a little quiet. (9/10)

2. "Tserouf" (8:59) a very tight funky jazz fusion song that could have come off of any of the American masters of the era--Miles, Chick, Stanley, Zawinal, even JLPonty, Area or Bob James! Great song. Very melodic. (9.5/10)

3. "F.F.F. (Fleurs for Faton)" (2:34) very nice little musical étude performed by piano, acoustic violin and bowed double bass--like a gift from Débussy or Fauré. (9.5/10)

4. "Kabal" (4:14) very tightly performed, fast-paced opening before stepping down to a slower tempo at 0:50 for some synth work--but then things ramp up again with EVERYBODY getting into the act MAHAVISHNU style. The bass and drum work remain super tight and focused at the bottom throughout this display of virtuosity. (8.5/10)

5. "Sadie" (3:43) opens rather loosely, as if walking by a Jean-Luc Ponty-like street musician. The sopranino sax, bass, and electric violin melodies and harmonic support throughout this oft-shifting tempoed song are gorgeous. At 2:40 we are even treated to an overdubbed solo track for the violin. Nice. Creative, inventive song. (10/10)

6. "Free Folk" (10:44) there's a very relaxed vibe throughout this song--like a WEATHER REPORT song. As a matter of fact, there's very little here--or on this album--that harkens to Zeuhl music. Feels and sounds like the Zao crew has shaken loose from the Vander clutches and moved fully into the jazz fusion fold. Nicely done. Probably the weakest song on the album--almost anti-climactic fill--but still good. (8.5/10)

The question is: why is Jean-My Truong so sedate and/or mixed so low in the soundscape?

 Shekina by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.84 | 57 ratings

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Shekina
Zao Zeuhl

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Opening with one of my all-time favorite 'happy songs', "Joy!" (3:54) (10/10) a song that just grooves and gets into your bones so that you can't help but get up and dance, be happy, the rest of the album is interesting for the range of emotions it takes the listener through.

2. "Yen-Lang" (8:10) retains more of the band's Zeuhl foundations with its quiet start and slow build using a pulsing, bass-infused almost single chord (single key) melody line. Flute and strings are awesome on this one. (9/10)

3. "Zohar" (10:53) opens at breakneck speed with all band members laying it all on the line--though none more than drummer, Jean-My Truong. By the third minute the music transitions radically to an all-strings format. At 5:00 bass, drums, keys and percussion sneak back in while strings disappear. Cahen's experimentation with keyboard sound takes over for a bit. Though the band is tight in their occasional ensembleness, the song lacks cohesion and overall feels a bit more like a experiment in experimentalism. (8/10)

4. "Metatron" (8:17) opens with Zeuhlish voices and sax and bass before taking off on a run through a series of challenging sections of disciplined precision-timed chord sequences. At two minutes, driving bass and drum race us along while keys, horns and voices move at a deliberately contrasting snail's pace. Things finally shift around the frenetically paced drums as bass and keys open the way for some sax and keyboard solos. Very reminiscent of both Weather Report and even Brand X. Impressive song. Impressive drummer! (9/10)

5. "Zita" (4:38) opens quietly with strings and electric piano weaving into a little soundtrack chamber music exercise with a kind of sound similar to Eberhard Weber or Vangelis. The presence of the lone soprano voice slightly in the background is a cool effect. Beautiful and peaceful. (9.5/10)

6. "Bakus" (5:13) is just weirdness--though keys, bass and drums really put their Zeuhl chops on full display here. Really it's just Seffert's vocals--sounding more like the fore-runner of those from 21st Century Japanese bands Koenji Hyakkei or OOIOO. Solid song. (8/10)

Though Seffers, Cahen, Prévost and the rest of the band continue to move farther away from their Magma roots, and more into that of the Jazz-Rock/Fusion sub-genre, this is still an album I'd classify as 'Zeuhl'--unlike their next one, Kawana, which is pure jazz fusion (despite the addition of violinist Didier Lockwood). There's something I like so much about this album. Kind of like the way I feel about AREA's Arbeit Macht Frei versus the more polished and virtuosic follow up, Crac!

4.5 stars.

 Z=7L by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.47 | 64 ratings

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Z=7L
Zao Zeuhl

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

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.

 Zao Family by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.89 | 9 ratings

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Zao Family
Zao Zeuhl

Review by Exa Gerardo

4 stars This is an album that came across the iTunes store, as I was actually looking for another missing in my Zeuhl collection, such as: "Typhareth" or "Akhenaton". And I must confess that at first, some doubts arose if this was really an album that kept some continuity with the sound developed by Zao since its reunification in 1994, as the title on the cover was a little confusing, crediting the album as "Seffer / Cahen Septet ", there was a chance of this being a conventional jazz album, as in some alternate projects by Zeuhl mastermind, Christian Vander.

But after all, there was not much to lose, the worst that could have happened was to add a nice jazz album to my collection, but the best was what actually happened, finding one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of Zeuhl dinasty: an album of excellent workmanship, in which several elements that have boosted Zao's music throughout its history, can be found: a strong dose of jazz-fusion unfolded from Miles Davis 70's school, and also a number of elements that definitely relate to Zeuhl and the work of this French group during its classical period, such as: the integration of contemporary classical music, the use of atonal compositions, open spaces for improvisation and a strong influence of traditional and ethnic music from Eastern Europe, a predominant feature mainly in Seffer's compositions, both in his work with Zao and throughout his solo career.

On the line, we know that there's not a single album, where we can find exactly the same line-up, true, there are certain constants from time to time in Zao's discography, but ultimately the very core of this group, consists only of saxophonist Yochk'o Seffer, and now gone keyboardist François Cahen, who are accompanied on this album, by drummer François Causse, same that subsequently participated in live albums "Zao in Tokyo" and "Ethnic 3 Live", alternating with guest percussionist Mino Cinelu, they provide a more organic rhythm base, with certain ethnic or world music taste, on compositions featured by Seffer's woodwinds, without vocalizations but instead enhanced by a string quartet that ultimately reminds us of some of the most important works from classical Zao period, such as "Shekinah" or "Kawana" where the strings contrast and complement the more jazzy sound of the base group.

So if you enjoy any of these mentioned albums, I have no hesitation in recommend this one for your collection or playlist, though it's not easy to find on CD, at least you'll find it in iTunes or Spotify.

 Zao - Live! by ZAO album cover Live, 1976
3.64 | 14 ratings

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Zao - Live!
Zao Zeuhl

Review by Padraic
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars This is an outstanding live performance done shortly after Yochk'o Seffer left the band. Didier Lockwood provides his usual excellence on violin, and Jean My-Truong is absolutely outstanding on drums. The whole band breathes a high level of energy into tracks from the first four Zao albums - in particular you can hear this in the performance of "Isis", where this author found the studio recording a bit lackluster and flat. The one downside of this album (and certainly why it can't get 5 stars) is that the audio quality is barely tolerable - particularly on "Improcol" where it threatens to almost drop off completely - pretty much bootleg quality throughout. Still, highly recommended for jazz-rock and zeuhl fans.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to NotAProghead for the last updates

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