Here we have a blast from the past, a wonderful CD of a jazzy progressive rock fusion mix. This band is a 3-piece power trio from France. They are very strong musically and over time they get a whole lot tighter and better in their compositions and arrangements on later recordings. They are sadly no more since one member of the band had some personal problems and had to stop playing and retired from music.
The band is led by Jad Ayache who plays guitars and guitar synthesizers, the out front bassist is Nicolas Neimer and the very busy drummer is Patrick Boileau. The band fuses electric guitar figures and melodic lines with upfront almost lead electric bass (hence the zeuhl reference) with a busy and frenetic drummer. Most pieces are started by the guitar playing a finger picked or plain electric guitar figure or chords, then from there they add layers of single note electric guitar melodies and highly electric guitar chords with the ever changing bass and drums figures. The band is very adept at varying tempo and dynamics to increase the interest and excitement of these tunes. Xaal is a group of 3 dynamic players who came along at the end of the boring 80’s to release this their first CD and set the so called “progressive fusion scene” afire.
Technically this music owes a lot to Magma in the way the bass is out front driving these tunes. You can also hear some influences from other bands such as Zao or Weidorje, who are both French zeuhl/fusion rock bands in their own right and borrow from “Magma” as well. The arrangements are wonderful with very tasty use of a horn section on 3 songs. The horn section is a trumpet player and one tenor sax player. You can also hear King Crimson and Brand X here and there.
There are 9 songs and most are around the 5-6 minute mark. The CD is called On the way and is sort of a concept album, I assume its roughly about man’s walk to the future or maybe to heaven or even to enlightenment.
The longest piece is called “Byblos” and is my favorite on here and it lasts a little over 11 minutes. This has 3 or 4 killer sections and keeps you very interested for the full time. It opens with a flute like guitar part from the guitar synth being finger picked. The mid tempo opening of this part is joined by a very out front bass guitar playing lead lines and accents which is joined by el. guitar very shortly after. All the sections of this songs are very good and they are joined together to make the whole better than the individual bits. Superb arranging.
I also like the song called “On The Way” with its great driving bass and drums rhythm and beats. Mid tempo song with horn accents and the out front bass and drums playing tightly meshed bits. Guitar solo about 1:24 is very trebly and fits well. At about 2:35 the tempo speeds up with electric guitar and bass playing same melody line from opening section. Midway through the tempo slows a bit giving the horns a little playing time as the bass and drums play a slower jazzy figure.
This is excellent French jazz rock fusion. It couldn’t have come at a better time in history and even today it holds up well with the “vanilla” production sounds and techniques used on this. The guitar melodies Jad comes up with are sublime and with the arranging of the music it becomes more than just a 3-piece rock/fusion group. If anyone is interested in a slightly different style of rock fusion then they should check this stuff out. Exquisite!
Zeuhl is a style of music that is/was pioneered played and written by Magma, the French avant progressive jazz rock ensemble.