Here we have an essential reissue of ZNR's second and final release Traité De Mécanique Populaire brought to us by the good people of ReR Megacorp. Originally released by Invisible Records back in 1978, "Treaty of Popular Mechanics," as it translates from French, has been reissued over the years and has won the hearts and minds of more than a few musically adventurous souls. ZNR was the short-lived but spectacularly inventive vehicle for the creative impulses of French composers Hector Zazou and Joseph Racaille (hence the name, Z and R). The cover of their first release under the ZNR moniker, titled "Barricades 3", was sketched up by none other than Captain Beefheart himself, and that should give you some sense of what you're up against here (though this music is light years away from his style). The bedrock could likely be described as Soft Machine or Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd if their songs had been written by Erik Satie, scattered with a little Perrey and Kingsley experimentation and perhaps some free jazz undertones using a heavily contrasting assortment of instruments. While it may sound a little bit scattered and maybe somewhat off-putting, I can't stress enough how thoroughly listenable the album is. If this sounds intriguing to you I would suggest you jump in straight away, you're already late for the party.
Side Zazou, as it's called, begins with "Ancien Automate Mexicain" which starts off with a horns and piano melody over which strings briefly provide a nice harmony, sounding almost like Calliope music towards the conclusion. This is followed by "Ecorcherie Romantique Pour Coeur Fele", where saxophone and bass clarinet engage in some back-and-forth over another charming piano melody. "Enchevetrement Desordonne" is built up on a very simple, warm, Rhodes-sounding keyboard riff which is accompanied again by the reeds and a bit of guitar. On "Alia Lasse" the dueling piano lines and horns are capped with a welcome fragment of singing and clapping. "La Vieille Montre" is a soft dialogue of clarinet and flute that gets bouncy towards the close, and ends with a single piano chord accenting the clarinet line. A lot occurs in a short amount of time on the piece entitled "Tout Debout", followed very shortly by the chanted, wordless melody of "Printemps Au Jardin Potager Vu D'en Haut." The stunning "Triste Prose Et Vieux Billards" is an exquisitely brief piano and bass romp that's over sooner than you'll want it to be. The next track "Garden Party" opens with a beautifully sorrowful violin with a classical/Spanish guitar accompaniment before getting fleshed out with horns and some brief but playful vocals.
"Chanson Triste Pour Faire Dancer Les Petites Filles" extends the sentiment of the previous track by reprising the sparse violin/guitar interplay to kick off Side Racaille. Next up, "Nu Au Bain" is a short longing piece for piano and flute, which recalls for me some long-lost 70's ABC Movie of the Week intro (I mean that in a good way). The next two tracks, "Serenades Italienne" parts 1 & 2, are gorgeous miniatures that you barely have time to wrap your head around before they disappear back into the ether. "Trou De Ble" features the most vocals of any single track on the album by a long shot, obviously all sung in French over an accompaniment of keys and bandoneon with some nice accents from the reeds. I think the next piece; "Vieille Chanson Irlandaise" wins the prize as my favorite track, mainly due to the free jazz inspired, hiccupping saxophone and bass clarinet interactions which come completely and unexpectedly out of the blue. "Memoire D'un Chien" is an electric keyboard and piano driven romp, with Zazou and Racaille riffing off one other. Towards the finish the bass clarinet appears to provide apposite counterpoint. The next track "Printemps Au Jardin Potager Vu D'en Bas" is all soft wordless vocals, piano, and strings whereas "Un Veritable Monstre A Musique" feels a bit disjointed, but is never-the-less an entertaining listen. The next three pieces are piano music, all wearing Erik Satie's influence proudly on their sleeve, "Deux Pieces Elementaires Pour Piano: Retourne A Melbourne", "Deux Pieces Elementaires Pour Piano: Retourne A L'ecole", and "Prelude A La Graisse De Phoque" run a combined total of about 90 seconds. It probably takes longer to say the titles than to listen to the songs, but as with Satie they're all relatively unadorned and exceedingly enjoyable to listen to. The last morsel of song is titled "Le Fils Du Grand Compositeur" and closes the album in a manner that gives a little of everything, but not too much of anything, which is to say that everything is proportioned very minimally, but with such variety and elegance that it's impossible not to be entranced by it all. This is a decidedly recommended reissue for enthusiasts of indispensable, timeless, yet peculiar music.
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