Written by: Kev Rowland
Over the years my musical tastes have broadened, which is probably both a good and a bad thing when one is as much of a musical addict as I am. A quick check on the Mac tells me I have more than 11,000 albums, a terabyte of music, stored there, and that doesn’t include all the CDs and vinyl in the study. Over the years I have taken advice from both critics and friends, and have investigated music that I should have known much earlier in life. I don’t know how or where, but at some point, I became aware of Art Zoyd, and their 1976 album ‘Symphonie Pour Le Jour Où Brûleront Les Cités’, and from then on, I have been a keen investigator of their works as they are like nothing else I have come across, although they are often cited within the RIO movement. So, when I heard that Cuneiform (one of my favourite labels) was going to release a set containing 12 CDs, 2 DVDs, 2 books and 2 posters I knew that I just had to have it. This was a huge undertaking for the label, as the set was going to be the largest and most artistically lavish project they had ever been part of, and consequently they checked with fans to see if they would purchase it before they went ahead with the deal, and luckily enough there are enough people with discerning taste to make this a reality in November.
The tale told by ‘44½’ incorporates everything from decades-old demos for brilliant but abandoned pieces to live recordings of multimedia extravaganzas involving film, theatre, and more. It encompasses intimate trio performances as well as full orchestral assaults featuring dozens of musicians in full flight. It offers explosive industrial soundscapes and sweeping symphonic surges, quiet dread and monumental wallop, delicate acoustic chamber pieces and bustling electronic outbursts. Art Zoyd has always been a band in flux, not only stylistically but in terms of personnel as well. Countless musicians have come and gone through the band’s ranks over the years, but most of them can be heard here, with core players like bassist/cellist Thierry Zaboitzeff, trumpeter Jean-Pierre Soarez, keyboardist Patricia Dallio, and violinist/keyboardist Gérard Hourbette providing the through-line. On recordings that go all the way back to 1975, this sprawling set—you can’t capture the gist of an ensemble like this without going heroically deep—spotlights the multitude of ways in which Art Zoyd blazed a trail unquestionably their own. Their constantly shifting sound was even a million miles from their RIO comrades, let alone anything even minutely more conventional. They’ve always been left field of the left field, the maverick’s mavericks, and if anything, this set underlines just how diligently they’ve pursued that grand idiosyncrasy decade after decade, offering new views of their evolution in the bargain.
The packaging is amazing, the music incredible, the production spot on. This is simply indispensable for anyone who have ever wanted their music to be real and not plastic. If ever there was an example of a label showing that they are there for the fans, for those who love what they do and are proud of it, as opposed to searching for the next big thing, then Cuneiform are it. I am proud to say that I have been involved with the label for more than twenty years, and the guys never cease to amaze me with their search for the very best in music, but this time they have outdone themselves. It may take months to get through everything in the box, to read the books, and truly understand what this band means in terms of the history of modern music and the impact they have had, but it is time very well spent indeed. It simply doesn’t get any better, or any more complete, than this. It is impossible to imagine what else Cuneiform could have done to make this release any more essential than it is.
14 CDs and 256 tracks. See full tracklist HERE