Exposé Online banner

Zao — Akhenaton
(Musea FGBG 4125.AR, 1994, CD)

by Rob Walker, 1995-03-01:

Akhenaton Cover art Zao was a fantastic French fusion band that released a half dozen albums in the 70s. Formed by saxophonist Yochk'o Seffer and keyboardist Francois Cahen after leaving an early incarnation of Magma, Zao had a strong zeuhl sensibility, which gave their jazz-fusion stylings a unique character. Their best album, Kawana, was recorded in 1976, and shortly thereafter the band members went their separate ways. Now, apparently spurred by the recent Musea reissues of most of their back catalog, Seffer and Cahen decided to reform the band to record a new album. And how fortunate we are that they did! Akhenaton harkens back to the best of their 70s work; the zeuhl influence still flavoring their busy, driving fusion. With former members Jean-My Truong on drums, Dominique Bertram on bass, and Patrick Tilleman on violin, the band lays down some tasty grooves, serving as a foundation for Seffer's fluid soprano sax solos, as well as some nice lead work by Tilleman and Cahen. More structured parts of the music feature the trademark Zao harmonized and unison sax and violin melodies. The nine tracks on Akhenaton are all winners, providing a full hour of engaging music. The only complaint I have is about Cahen's choice of keyboards — he plays exclusively a Wersi sampled piano, which to my ears sounds about the same as the oft-loathed DX7 electric piano patch. A grand piano or a nice biting Rhodes electric would have given him a bit more dynamic range to play with, but Cahen is talented enough to make anything sound good, and the Wersi does fit in well in the context of this music. This minor caveat aside, Akhenaton is a top-notch fusion album and a must buy for all Zao fans.

by Dan Casey, 1995-03-01:

After a decade and a half, the zeuhl-fusion ensemble Zao are back with a release that is a real treat. While the lineup has changed from the classic formation which included Didier Lockwood on violin and Gerard Prevost on bass, the replacements do an admirable job filling their shoes. This time Francois Cahen (sampled pianos), Jean-My Truong (drums) and Yochk'o Seffer (soprano sax) are joined by Dominique Bertram (4/5 string bass) and Patrick Tilleman (violins). The tunes are still penned by Cahen and Seffer, and the good news is the spirit of their 70s output remains intact with Akhenaton. Sax and violin interact to create energetic melodies, licks, and harmonies over the busy drumming and bass playing, which doesn't rely as much on zeuhl stylings as it used to (consistent with the current trend in France among the first generation of zeuhlsmen) but works quite well anyways. The album opens and closes with a gentle duo of sax and piano, as if to state that this is still Cahen's and Seffer's band. Overall it falls just short of the classic Kawana, but in this day and age to hear musicians who've been around for a while coming back to their roots is mighty refreshing. For people who have never heard Zao before, this is as good a place to start as any. Technology has had a mixed effect on this outfit — while the drums and bass sound better than ever, the sampled pianos (electric included) are a bit cold and artificial. If Cahen's performance was less impressive the effect would have been even worse, but thankfully his playing is good enough to divert your attention from the weaker patches. To be clear, this style of prog is much closer to jazz and fusion than might be expected. Fans of the old Zao are sure to enjoy this comeback, one of the best comebacks this decade in fact. Recommended.

[For the record, Dominique Bertram was a member of Zao during the band's first reunion circa 1986, at which time they did some concerts in Paris, but he never recorded with the band. Zao's last album (the 5th) was Typareth from 1977, but Yochk'o Seffer did not participate on that one. Patrick Tillemann was a member of Forgas, Terpandre, and Gwendal, but was never previously a member of Zao. -PT ]


by Mike McLatchey, 1995-03-01:

Zao should need no introduction for progressive fusion fans, as they were one of France's best groups of the 70s, releasing five albums, four of them essential listens. While Zao has reformed occasionally since 1977 for the occasional live show, they haven't released an album with Yochk'o Seffer (sax, ex-Magma, Perception, Speed Limit, Neffesh Music) and Francois "Faton" Cahen (keys, ex- Magma) together since the classic Kawana. Due to good sales of their reissued CDs (Kawana, Shekina, Z=7L — and Osiris is due for reissue soon), Seffer and Cahen have reformed the group back with drummer Jean-My Truong and two new (but not unknown) members: Patrick Tilleman (violin, ex-Terpandre) and Dominique Bertram (bass, ex-Magma, Neffesh Music). Cahen has traded in the 70s sound for the Wersi sampled piano immediately giving the album a more modern texture. Seffer's sax talents have improved over the last 18 years, going from an excellent player to virtual mastery over the instrument. Some of the sax solos here are simply dazzling. The overall effect is best described as the old Zao with a modern jazz feel to it. The themes and melodies are very similar to what Seffer and Cahen have done for the last twenty years, yet the production and style are more updated and less 70s progressive sounding. Dominique Bertam is the real stand out here, his bass playing is impeccable and some of his bass riffs are straight-out gems. The album starts out a bit slow, but once track 3 and 4 kick in, you're in for a treat, especially when the instrumentalists trade off — first Tilleman's distorted guitar-like violin playing followed by Cahen's sampled piano runs and more breathtaking sax soloing by Seffer. It doesn’t let up to the last track, which is a melancholy ending to the album's tremendous fire. Its amazing what the pioneering 70s groups can do when they stick to what they do best. This Zao reunion took me by surprise — I hope this isn't the last we hear from this quintet as Akhenaton is the surprise of the year. Highly recommended to progressive fusion fans.

Filed under: New releases , Issue 6 , 1994 releases

Related artist(s): Yochk'o Seffer, Zao

More info

Latest news

2018-09-05
Krautrock Documentary Seeks Funding – The next installment of the Progressive Warriors documentary series will focus on the vast body of music that falls under the banner of "krautrock." As most of our readers will know, previous films have tackled RIO and the Canterbury scene, as well as what we might call "mainstream" prog rock. » Read more

2018-07-31
Tomasz Stańko RIP – Tomasz Stańko, one of the greats of Eastern European jazz, has died at the age of 76. Stańko's career started in Krzysztof Komeda's quintet, where he contributed trumpet from 1963-1967, when he formed his own group. He worked extensively with Edward Vesala, Don Cherry, Zbigniew Seifert, Chico Freeman, Howard Johnson, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Many of his recordings have been released by ECM, an association that began in the mid-70s. » Read more

2018-07-09
Soft Machine Set to Release New Music – It's been 50 years since The Soft Machine changed the face of music with their first album. Their blend of psychedelic rock and jazz was unique, and while the band went through many changes before disbanding in 1981 — by which time there were no original members remaining — they remained an innovative force with a style all their own. » Read more

2018-07-01
7d Surfaces Happy Rhodes Back Catalog – We've covered singer Happy Rhodes before, both for her solo work and recently with The Security Project, but her 11 albums have been hard to track down. Until now. 7d features high-quality downloads of all her releases, and several of them are also available on CD. » Read more

2018-06-25
Fred Chalenor RIP – We have news of another sad passing in the world of creative music. Bassist Fred Chalenor, whose creativity featured on albums by Tone Dogs, Caveman Shoestore, and many more, died on June 23, 2018 after a long battle with Alzheimer's. Tributes have poured in from the many musicians and fans whose lives he touched. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Bill Nelson - Buddha Head & Weird Critters – Since disbanding BeBop Deluxe more than twenty years ago, Bill Nelson has released more than thirty solo albums ranging from engaging progressive pop to long ambient works written for art...  (2001) » Read more

Tunnels - Natural Selection – Part of the fun of listening to every new Tunnels release is listening to all the sounds, and wondering in amazement: “How does Marc Wagnon make all those sounds with only his midi-vibes?”...  (2007) » Read more

Pallas - Moment to Moment – Many bands who were part of the 80s neo-prog movement are facing the reality that even though their popularity is holding steady and it’s easier than ever to record albums and perform live,...  (2008) » Read more

Simon Mayor and the Mandolinquents - Dance of the Comedians – The Mandolinquents are an acoustic, mandolin based (how did you guess?) quartet that’s been playing together off and on for a dozen years or more, and this – documenting one of their live...  (2008) » Read more

John Flomer's Primal Cinema - Mysterious Motions of Memory – Mysterious Motions is synthesist / composer Flomer's debut for Spotted Peccary. As 'Primal Cinema' and the title might suggest, the music here has a strong cinematic character, full of...  (1997) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues