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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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Pyrrhic VictoryPyrrhic Victory
Observed/Observer Recordings 2017
Limited Edition
Ferret 2009
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All Else FailedAll Else Failed
Solid State Records 2003
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The Well-Intentioned VirusThe Well-Intentioned Virus
Observed/Observer Recordings 2016
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The Funeral of GodThe Funeral of God
Ferret Records 2004
$1.30 (used)
Solid State Records 2004
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Parade of ChaosParade of Chaos
Solid State Records 2002
$3.45 (used)
Solid State Records 2001
$3.00 (used)
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ZAO discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

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

3.48 | 57 ratings
3.90 | 51 ratings
3.92 | 50 ratings
4.11 | 48 ratings
3.72 | 30 ratings
3.10 | 20 ratings
3.94 | 8 ratings
Zao Family

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

3.64 | 14 ratings
Zao - Live!
3.45 | 9 ratings
Zao In Tokyo
3.88 | 5 ratings
Ethnic 3 Live

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

0.00 | 0 ratings
Live At The Triton

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)

0.00 | 0 ratings

ZAO Reviews

Showing last 10 reviews only
 Kawana by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.11 | 48 ratings

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
3.92 | 50 ratings

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
3.48 | 57 ratings

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
3.94 | 8 ratings

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

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.
 Z=7L by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1973
3.48 | 57 ratings

Zao Zeuhl

Review by toroddfuglesteg

3 stars I am really getting into zeuhl at the moment and is hoovering up zeuhl albums at online auctions and other places. So it was only a matter of time before I bumped into this band and this, their debut album.

Zao has been described as a Magma copy. For me, Z=7L sounds like a mix of Magma and Return To Forever with some Hatfield & The North injected through Nordettes, their female singers. Vocally, Zao is dominated by their female vocalist Mauricia Platon.

This is a more than acceptable debut album. It does comes across as a light-weight album though. What I am missing is the rich textures from the zeuhl genre and the debt of the jazz/fusion genre. Z=7L is somewhere inbetween these genres and is lacking the best of both.

When that is said, this is a good album which makes me wanting to pursue collecting Zao albums.

3 stars

 Typhareth by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1977
3.72 | 30 ratings

Zao Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Typhareth is the logical conclusion to Zao's experiments in continuing the more fusion-influenced strands of Magma's music, in that by this point in the band's development their previous Zeuhl sound has been replaced with slick fusion chops - and then they go further than that, and for most of the album play in a classic jazz style. This is not actually a bad thing - the years spent working on Zeuhl and fusion playing honed the band's skills markedly, and leaves them more than capable of performing traditional jazz to a high standard - but at the same time it feels rather overpolished and safe. Yes, it's a regression to their musical routes rather than a progression forwards into new territory, but sometimes it's a good thing to revisit your routes and try out the new tricks you've learned in your explorations in a traditional framework, but at the same time Typhareth falls into an awkward gap where neither jazz fans nor zeuhl maniacs will go crazy about it.
 Kawana by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1976
4.11 | 48 ratings

Zao Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars On Kawana, Zao recapture the dark Zeuhl spirit which eluded them on Osiris (the only earlier album of theirs I have heard). Opening with the mesmerising Natura, on which Fran'ois Cahen essentially uses his piano as a rhythm instrument to lend extra weight and urgency to the already powerful rhythm section of bassist G'rard Pr'vost and drummer Jean-My Truong, the album proceeds to offer a brooding, volcanic form of fusion-leaning Zeuhl, reminiscent of parent band Magma's earlier (pre-Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh) works. Particular praise has to be given to Didier Lockwood, whose violin contributions help to set Zao's sound apart from Magma's work. Zao's exploration of the fusion-Zeuhl route Magma opted against taking is an important contribution to the genre, and Kawana is one of the band's greatest achievements.
 Osiris by ZAO album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.90 | 51 ratings

Zao Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Zao may have been one of the first Zeuhl bands to spring up in the wake of Magma's inauguration of the style - founded, as it was, with Magma refugees - but you'd be forgiven for considering Osiris it a retreat from the Zeuhl style rather than a willing embrace of it. Veering back towards jazz fusion, the group aim not for the murky, fast-paced, volcanic fusion of Magma's early days but a more sedate and laid back variety of jazz-rock, of the sort propagated by Weather Report at around the same time. To my ears, the main Zeuhl influence is in the percussion, which at points locks itself into a hypnotic groove of the sort Magma would make use of - but it's never quite so heavy or martial as Magma gets, nor does it sustain itself for as long. A pleasant enough album, but not exactly a cornerstone of the genre.
 Ethnic 3 Live by ZAO album cover Live, 2008
3.88 | 5 ratings

Ethnic 3 Live
Zao Zeuhl

Review by colorofmoney91
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I don't know much about the technicalities that make a certain album or artist zeuhl, but I'm fairly certain that this is a jazz album. Zao's earlier albums sound more like what I expect zeuhl to sound like, but this album definitely sounds like jazz of some unknown ethnic origin, given the title of this album. Zeuhl or not, Ethnic-3 Live is one of the most interesting jazz albums I've heard in a long time, mostly sounding like a perfect crossover of Hiromi and Sun Ra, with beautiful acoustic piano, energetic ethnic percussion, and sincerely saxophone.

The tracks on this album, being recorded live, sound like improvisational jams rather than actual songs. That being said, if these are improvisations, they are great. Maybe Zao aren't jazz masters of any sort, but the melodies in the improvisations really stand out and hold onto the listener. One thing that I've really liked about this album is the sound quality - it's fantastic. Everything is sharp and pointy in the mix, and each of the three musicians really stick out on their own. The only track on this album that doesn't really fit would be "Trebla", which includes electric hip-hop sounding beats, new-age choir sounds, and annoying vocals that pierce through the mix. It really ruins the laid back jam feel of the album, but luckily the track ends with some beautiful jazz lines. On a better note, one of my personal favorites on this album is "Felix" which has a very strong funky jungle jazz groove that is super infectious.

This album is definitely on my top 10 obscure live jazz albums, and I'd highly recommend this to anyone looking for a groovier and more acoustic Sun Ra type of album. Some of this album is even great for chill lounge music, which is always a good atmosphere to have music like this prepared for.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to NotAProghead for the last updates

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