Zacchaeus (UK): Zacchaeus (Olive Tree OT 1, with insert, 1978)
Jean Britton (joint lead vocals), Linda Moore (joint lead vocals), Patsy McBride (cello)
When this private pressing first resurfaced, it was described by dealers as ‘acid-folk’ or even ‘symphonic’ and sold for huge sums of money. Consequently, it appeared disappointing on first listen, but it’s a perfectly pleasant folk/rock opera composed for a primary school (but thankfully performed here by adults). Whilst it’s not in the same league as the best school project albums, it has some reasonably catchy material, professional performances throughout and – best of all – quite a bit of fuzz guitar. GRADE: C+.
Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary): Zalatnay (Pepita SLPX 17426, 1971)
Sarolta Zalatnay (lead vocals)
For the most part, the album offers enjoyable period pop/rock with some funk edges and powerful, spacious drumming (which has inevitably seen it become fashionable with club DJs). A few cuts also have a folkier feeling, though again mostly with prominent drums, lead guitar and Hammond organ. GRADE: C+.
Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary): Szeretettel (Pepita SLPX 17478, 1975)
Sarolta Zalatnay (lead vocals)
This is one of her patchier albums, with a few rather weak tracks, but it also has its moments. In particular, ‘Nem Akarom Latni Az Arcod’ is wonderful Hammond organ-driven pop/funk with some of her most powerful singing. Much of the backing is provided by Generál, who issued their own mildly interesting album. GRADE: C+.
Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary): Minden Szo Egy Dal (Pepita SLPX 17544, 1978)
Sarolta Zalatnay (lead vocals)
Another enjoyable pop/rock set, spanning a wide range of territory; the inventive ‘Mindenki’ which sets massed vocals against huge handclaps (almost like glam-rock gone acapella) is the most interesting thing on offer. GRADE: C+.
Sonny Zandueta (Belgium): The Passing Show (Dwarf 4C 062-97217, 1975)
Viona Westra (occasional vocals)
Sonny Zandueta and Viona Westra had previously been members of Stainless Steel; on his solo album, he offers some delightfully melodic material whilst she contributes backing vocals and wordless leads to a few songs. Whilst this may be of marginal interest to female vocal collectors, it’s certainly among the loveliest singer/songwriter albums of the seventies. GRADE: B–.
See also Wim de Craene & Viona Westra, Mad Curry, Stainless Steel
Karen Zanes (USA): Of Lovers And Tribes (Reverb Worship RW 351, CDR, with minisleeve and insert, UK, 2016)
Karen Zanes (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, loops, tanpura, recorder)
Running for around 25 minutes, this mini-album mixes spacy, haunting songs with tripped-out instrumentals based around acoustic guitars and drones. It’s lovely, atmospheric stuff, if a little fragmentary, and a whole album’s worth would have been very welcome. GRADE: C+.
Karen Zanes (USA): In The Court Of Wands (Reverb Worship RW 410, CDR, with minisleeve and insert, UK, 2018)
Karen Zanes (lead vocals, guitar, percussion)
When I bought this, Reverb Worship boss Roger Linney assured me I was going to ‘LOVE IT’ (capitals his). I misfiled the disc for six months, but on finally getting to hear this, it’s clear that Roger was spot on. Like her debut it’s not the most substantial album, totalling 28 minutes, but it’s a genuine delight (and it helps that a lot of the guitars are electric this time round). The echoing, minimalist soundscapes here are far more psychedelic than those on her first, and it’s definitely an album that leaves you wanting more – I’d love to hear what she could achieve on some extended improvisations, for starters. GRADE: B–.
Zaney Janey (UK): Zaney Janey (September Gurls SGCD 14, CD, Germant, 1997)
Jo Quinn (principal vocals, guitar, percussion, flute, recorder, flageolet, kazoo)
This Mary Jane offshoot has a slightly different flavour to the parent band, dropping any traditional folk influences in favour of a trippier, more pop-tinged sound. However, it’s every bit as good, being packed with lovely tracks, making every disc they’ve released a masterpiece. GRADE: B.
Pari Zangeneh (Iran): Ahang Rooz (No label AR-LP-1.99, 10”, 1975)
Housed in a beautiful gatefold sleeve, this unusual and very rare album offers dramatic, folky music with lots of strings and a very Eastern feel. At its best, this is easily the equal of its more celebrated follow-up, containing some lovely music. GRADE: C+.
ZAO (France): Z=7L (Vertigo 6499 738, 1973)
Mauricia Platon (lead vocals)
Formed by François Cahen and Jeff Seffer, both of whom were early members of Magma, ZAO built on their former band’s early sound but with the emphasis firmly on jazz-fusion rather than the more cosmic progressive direction that Magma would pursue without them. With six lively, complex tracks fronted by Mauricia Platon’s accomplished scatting, this is a fine album of its type, but it was certainly Christian Vander rather than Cahen or Seffer who was blessed with the real vision and imagination. GRADE: C+.
ZAO (France): In Tokyo (Muséa FGBG 4699.AR, CD, 2007)
Cynthia Saint-Ville (lead vocals)
Following Mauricia Platon’s departure, ZAO cut several instrumental albums during the seventies and one in 1994 before recruiting a new singer, with whom they recorded a couple of gigs during their 2004 Japanese tour. Cynthia Saint-Ville has a fine voice and the musicianship is predictably superb, making for an enjoyable set that’s ideal for those who like Magma at their straightest. GRADE: C+.
ZAO (France): Live At The Triton (Jazz’ Azimut Collection, DVD, 2009)
Cynthia Saint-Ville (lead vocals)
This bare-bones hour-long live set, taken from a French TV programme, won’t win any prizes for the quality of the sound recording, though it is fairly well filmed. By any standard, this is good jazz-fusion, with virtuosic player and some fine scatting from Cynthia Saint-Ville, but it also proves that Christian Vander took the much more interesting path when the first line-up of Magma split. GRADE: C+.
Zar (France/Ireland): Reservoir (Stupeur & Trompette ST 1005, CD, France, 1995)
Jo Thirion (keyboards), Katie O’ Looney (drums, tapes)
Formed by Étron Fou Leloublan keyboardist Jo Thirion and Irish multi-instrumentalist Katie O’ Looney, Zar assembled their album solely using keyboards, drums and tape effects. Arranged as a continuous suite, the music is varied, abstract and melodic, avoiding ELP-style bombast on one hand and atonal rambling on the other. With lots of classical and jazz references and good use of sound effects, this is an intriguing and unusual set. GRADE: C+.
See also Art Moulu, Étron Fou Leloublan, Katie O’ Looney
Zauber (Italy): Zauber (No label UM 104, 1978)
Liliana Bodini (lead vocals, guitar, percussion), Anna Galliano (piano, xylophone, flute)
This interesting private pressing offers largely instrumental keyboard-based music, somewhat recalling the first Pierrot Lunaire album. Very folky, strongly classically-influenced and extremely lyrical, it has a typical Italian seventies sound with some experimental edges and a nicely eerie feel. Both the CD reissues (retitled Il Sogno) add bonus tracks (three and four respectively) and rejig the running order to spread this material among the LP proper. These bonus numbers are much simpler and folkier, with acoustic guitar rather than keyboards as the main instrument. GRADE: B–.
Zauber (Italy): Est (Drums ECD 2239, CD, 1991)
Liliana Bodini (joint lead vocals)
Returning after an absence of more than a decade, the core of the seventies line-up offer an album mixing six songs with four instrumentals. Half the album was recorded live and half in the studio, but this doesn’t make a great deal of difference: the sound is firmly neoprogressive throughout, with lots of synthesisers and typically heavy early nineties drums. The best cut is the delicate, folky ‘Gennaio’ and the worst probably the brassy ‘Un Giorno Migliore’, but despite a few good moments this isn’t a very impressive album and it certainly doesn’t recapture the atmosphere of their first album. GRADE: C.
Zauber (Italy): Phoenix (Drums EDC 2256, CD, 1992, mostly recorded 1977)
Liliana Bodini (lead vocals, glockenspiel), Anna Galliano (harpsichord, flute)
This unusual release mostly comprises Zauber’s planned second album, recorded in 1977, but bookended by two cuts by the 1991 line-up. The 1977 recordings are much more polished than their 1978 album – still very Italian and very well-crafted, but without the hesitant, rather weird edge that made their debut so special. Unsurprisingly, the two modern tracks have the same, more synthesised, sound as Est.
Zauber (Italy): Aliens (Mellow MMP 170, CD, 1993)
Liliana Bodini (lead vocals, chimes)
Thankfully this is closer to the album the band had issued earlier in the year with Clarion than to Est: the brassy synthesisers and overbearing drums are gone, replaced by a more relaxed sound. Alternating songs and instrumentals, with plenty of elegant flute work, this is very pleasant, very mellifluous and very, very Italian. GRADE: C+.
Zauber & Dino Pelissero (Italy): Venti – Live (Mellow MMP 319, CD, 1996)
Liliana Bodini (joint lead vocals)
Zauber’s live album – unsurprisingly heavily featuring flautist Dino Pelissero – covers both the more pastoral and more neoprogressive aspects of their sound. By this point, Liliana Bodini had been reduced to the status of a guest, though she sings lead on three of the thirteen cuts; the band would continue with an all-male line-up. GRADE: C+.
See also Clarion, Tale
Zebra Crossing (UK): Zebra Crossing And Mosaic (No label BK 001, split LP, 1975?)
Annie Pinching (joint lead vocals)
Housed in a handsome paste-on cover, this rare album devotes a side apiece to each of the two different acts. The female-fronted Zebra Crossing is a rather nondescript traditional folk band, sounding similar to some of the less interesting artists on Folk Heritage. GRADE: C.
Zed (USA): Zed (No label 6007, 1979)
Sherry Hoffen (joint lead vocals)
This unusual AOR album operates in two basic styles: heavy rock with Sherry Hoffen singing at the top of her lungs, and symphonic ballads with male vocals. The most notable feature is the guitarist’s love of his fuzz pedal, with almost every guitar line, lead and rhythm, treated in this way. The result is a real oddity, superficially in the vein of Pat Benatar at her heaviest, but with progressive and mildly experimental edges added, and with a certain wildness underpinning the slick sound. Another good comparison would be the Child’s Art album, although this isn’t as varied or exploratory. GRADE: C+.
Zelinzki (Austria): Die Weltformel (Sowiesound SWS 550, CD, 2016)
Beatrix Neundlinger (joint lead vocals, saxophone, flute)
The light, swinging folk/jazz of the opening ‘Weckt Nicht Den Kleinen’ didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but the album quickly improves and is overall rather interesting. Overlaying rock and prog elements onto its spacious semi-acoustic base, it covers a fair range of ground and contains numerous interesting moments. Occasionally one gets the impression that the music is taking second place to the political proselytising – a criticism that could also be made of Beatrix Neundlinger’s former band Schmetterlinge – but for the most part this is extremely enjoyable. GRADE: C+.
See also 9dlinger & Die Gerinfügig Beschäfigten, Milestones, Schmetterlinge
Zephyr (USA): Zephyr (ABC Probe CP 4510, 1969)
Candy Givens (lead vocals, harmonica)
They’re usually only remembered for having launched the career of Tommy Bolin, but Zephyr were an interesting outfit in their own right. Their debut offers an accomplished mix of blues/rock and progressive elements, with excellent musicianship and well-structured compositions, but not a great deal of originality. Vocalist Candy Givens is a mixed blessing, however – she offers some fine blues performances in her lower register, but can sound like a helium-pitched cross between Janis Joplin and Elkie Brooks when shrieking. GRADE: C+.
Zephyr (USA): Going Back To Colorado (Warner Brothers WS 1897, 1971)
Candy Givens (principal vocals, piano, harmonica)
Their second LP is more mainstream and lightweight than their debut, yet occasionally a good deal odder. Among other diversions, it offers some country-ish blues, some mildly psychedelic pop/rock, a borderline rock and roller, some Eastern-tinged jazzy moments and some avant-garde interludes with backwards effects and treated vocals. Overall it’s a pleasant if not very memorable listen, but it’s hard to imagine what audience they were aiming at. GRADE: C+.
Zephyr (USA): Sunset Ride (Warner Brothers WS 2603, with insert, 1973)
Candy Givens (principal vocals, piano, harmonica)
Recorded with an almost entirely different line-up (only the husband-and-wife team of David and Candy Givens remain from the first two albums), their third LP is understandably very different to its predecessors. I have seen this described as a classic, but to me it’s good but not outstanding dreamy soft rock, with some country and blues tinges, and is likely to appeal to very different listeners from their other work. GRADE: C+.
Zephyr (USA): Heartbeat (Red Sneakers RSR 1001, with autographed poster, 1982)
Candy Givens (principal vocals, synthesiser, harmonica)
The band’s long-delayed fourth album is generic eighties rock, ranging from light AOR to new wave-tinged pop and even a borderline girl group pastiche. Personally I’d have expected metal; had they issued another album a few years later, that’s probably just the style they’d have adopted. GRADE: C.
Zephyr (USA): Live At Art’s Bar And Grill, May 2, 1973 (Tommy Bolin Archives TBACD-6, CD, 1997, recorded 1973)
Like the somewhat comparable Vinegar Joe, Zephyr were of that ilk of early seventies blues/rock band best enjoyed live. Far outclassing any of their studio sets, this is a fine performance in excellent sound quality, with Candy Givens in full Janis Joplin mode. If they’d captured this level of intensity and energy on record, they might have been more than a footnote on Tommy Bolin’s CV. GRADE: B–.
Zeptelar (Chile): El Color De Las Cosas (No label, CD, with digipak, 2013)
Valentina Mardones (lead vocals, synthesiser)
This seventies-style fusion album may hint towards Canterbury styles (I can hear a few hints of Cos, for one), but this is very definitely jazz/rock and not progressive rock. Complete with scat vocals, saxophone and flute, it’s likely to please those who love the genre; those who don’t will probably find it too safe, slick and sterile. GRADE: C+.
Zeudo (Sweden): A Wish From A Dream (Utopia UTP-186, with inner, 1986)
Anna Jedler (lead vocals)
Although terminally obscure and very short (about 25 minutes) this is definitely one of the better eighties sympho-prog albums. Zeudo’s sound could be compared to Marillion combined with the rich keyboard textures of Epidaurus; alternatively, they have definite similarities with contemporaries like Arrakeen and Edge. This is an extremely rare record, with only a few copies known. GRADE: C+.
Zhongyu (USA): “Zhongyu” Is Chinese For “Finally” (Moonjune MJR078, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2016)
Alicia Allen (violin)
No prizes for guessing from the band name, title and Chinoiserie artwork that this supple, powerful instrumental jazz/rock album borrows heavily from Oriental music. However, the band aren’t Chinese or Japanese: this is most of Moraine under another guise, though it’s newcomer Jon Davis who writes all the material. It’s extremely good material too, with plenty of twists and turns, an excellent recording and some highly effective experiments; had it not sagged occasionally towards the end, I might have awarded it a B. GRADE: B–.
See also Moraine
Lorri Zimmerman (Canada): Lorri Zimmerman (Crescent City C 1863, 1969)
This Canadian vocalist’s sole album comes in a psychedelic gatefold sleeve, but the music is rather dull, straight pop/rock, with a rural edge in parts. GRADE: C.
Zing (USA): Zing (BIZ Productions, with inserts, 1985)
Elli E Beans (joint lead vocals), Mare E Bear (joint lead vocals)
With a side-long track and three shorter pieces, this obscure private pressing has a very eighties sound, especially in the drums and the slick Mark Knopfler-style guitar. In fact, it gives a fair impression of what Dire Straits might have sounded like without a commercial edge and with a good female singer, featuring some lovely folky melodies, sumptuous instrumental progressions and lots of haunting flute. I do, however, find the pro-life lyrics and weird inserts about ‘secondary virginity’ and suchlike rather disturbing, although for many this will add a welcome ‘real people’ edge to the proceedings. GRADE: B–.
Zio (UK/France): Flower Torania (Posh & Rock, CD, with digipak, UK, 2020)
Hayley Griffiths (joint lead vocals), Heather Findlay (joint lead vocals), Lizzie Hughes (bass)
This progressive metal rock opera is a good example of the breed: melodic, varied, well-sung and beautifully recorded. On the downside, it’s a rock opera firmly rooted in neoprog, so don’t expect anything revelatory here, but there’s plenty of good music here that repays repeated listening. GRADE: C+.
See also Hayley Griffiths, Karnataka
Ziskakan (Réunion): Ziskakan (Ediroi EDI 108, 1981)
Anny Grondin (occasional vocals), Françoise Sida (flute, backing vocals)
Hailing from the island of Réunion (a French overseas department off the coast of Madagascar), Ziskakan offer a mixture of folk and ethnic elements, with the arrangements dominated by acoustic (and occasionally electric) guitar, hand percussion and flute. The result is a pleasant, intricate album that occasionally overdoes the repetitive chanting but is overall rather winsome. Unsurprisingly, all their early albums are quite rare and expensive. GRADE: C+.
Ziskakan (Réunion): Mon Péi Bato Fou (No label 007, double, 1983)
Anny Grondin (occasional vocals, percussion), Françoise Sida (occasional vocals, percussion, flute), Soukhenya Bada (occasional vocals, percussion), Guylène Bègue (occasional vocals, maracas)
This double album is their magnum opus, allowing them to stretch out on some long and beautiful songs. As with many double LPs, there’s a certain amount of filler here, but the best pieces are exquisitely haunting, with a subtle psychedelic edge and delicate colourings from their native traditions. Strangely, the 1991 CD reissue Bato Fou (Piros CDP 5150) is not a reissue of the album but a compilation of material from their first two LPs. GRADE: B–.
Ziskakan (Réunion): Moringèr (No label ZIS 015, 1987)
Anny Grondin (occasional vocals), Soukhenya Bada (occasional vocals), Françoise Sida (flute)
Several tracks show them moving towards the commercial world music direction they would pursue on later albums, complete with electric guitar leads and what sounds like a synthesiser. Elsewhere, however, they offer some hauntingly beautiful material that easily matches the best songs on their previous LP. GRADE: B–.
Zonkaraz (USA): Drivin’ (Bayshore, 1979)
Nancy Roche (joint lead vocals)
Although well-played and with all-original material, this laid-back West Coast album is rather bland – whether they’re playing melodic hard rock or country/rock, the band offer little distinctive personality. Fans of Shakedown Street-era Grateful Dead could enjoy this, however, and the cover is rather amusing. GRADE: C.
ZÓÉ (USA): Never Be The Same (MRC MRC025, 1983)
Donna Godchaux (joint lead vocals)
This obscure Christian band’s main claim to fame is including Donna Godchaux (plus her second husband and long-term musical collaborator David MacKay) among its ranks. With mainly keyboard-based arrangements and a definite neoclassical feel, it’s a pleasant album of its type, but Godchaux appears to have disowned it and doesn’t mention it in the discography on her website. GRADE: C+.
See also Donna Jean, Ghosts, Grateful Dead, Heart Of Gold Band
ZOU (France): ZOU (Polydor 2393 103, 1975)
Maria Popkiewicz (principal vocals)
According to the back cover, the band’s full name was ‘Zön Orchestra Unlimited’; coupled with the presence of future Magma member Maria Popkiewicz, that might lead you to expect this to be zeuhl. It’s nothing of the kind: whilst the thirteen-minute suite ‘Puzzle Head’ contains some good progressive moves, this is mostly competent but fairly unexciting seventies rock with English lyrics, a rather American feel and some slight funky and soulful touches. GRADE: C.
See also Pascal Duffard, Magma, Bernard Paganotti
Zoundworks (Holland): 2014 (Life Line Productions LLR CD 21 077, CD, 2014)
Marion Stroetinga (occasional vocals), Ankie Jansen (occasional vocals)
This offshoot project by Life Line Project’s Erik de Beer isn’t particularly different from the parent band. It sees de Beer playing all the instruments on a set consisting mainly of short and varied instrumentals, plus two actual songs (which are decidedly the low points). The album’s pluses and minuses are identical to those of Life Line Project: the music is lively, engaging and well played, but consisting entirely of brief tracks the musical themes are never really developed and the whole thing feels rather lightweight. GRADE: C+.
See also Life Line Project
Amaia Zubiria & Pascal Gaigne (Spain): Egun Argi Hartan (Elkar ELK-97, with booklet, 1985)
Amaia Zubiria (principal vocals)
This collaboration between the former Haizea vocalist and a guitarist and accordionist is somewhat straighter than her former band, though still quite interesting. Guest players are used extensively on woodwind, creating rich yet gentle tapestries of sound, with a few spacy edges from Pascal Gaigne’s guitar synthesiser (notably on standout cut ‘Itsasoan Laino Dago’). The lack of any rock edges, as well as the lack of variety, may limit the album’s appeal compared to Haizea, but this is intriguing, well-crafted stuff nonetheless. GRADE: C+.
Amaia Zubiria & Pascal Gaigne (Spain): Kolorez Eta Ametsez (Elkar ELK-135, with insert, 1986)
Amaia Zubiria (lead vocals)
Their quite different second album is much jazzier and more varied, with greater use of rock instrumentation. The eerie, proggy wordless ‘Amorosa’ is probably the highpoint, but this is a pleasant album throughout. GRADE: C+.
Amaia Zubiria & Pascal Gaigne (Spain): Zineman (Angel Amigo AA 001, France, 1990)
Amaia Zubiria (principal vocals)
This collection of film music from between 1981 and 1990 is much weirder and more interesting than the duo’s other albums, ranging from breezy accordion tunes with wordless vocals to borderline classical music to a short section of musique concrète. The results are frequently fascinating, hinting towards the music of bands like Julverne, and recapturing the adventurous spirit of Haizea in a way their earlier albums didn’t. GRADE: B–.
See also Haizea
Fabio Zuffanti & Victoria Heward (Italy): Merlin – The Rock Opera (Iridea 2000-6-2AB, with minisleeves, booklets and gatefold slipcase, 2000)
Loredana Villanacci (occasional vocals), Nadia Girardi (occasional vocals), Laura Cavalleri (occasional vocals)
This collaboration between composer and multi-instrumentalist Fabio Zuffanti (Aries, Curva Di Lesmo, Finisterre, Höstsonaten) and lyricist Victoria Heward lives up to its name by being an eighty-minute epic with several singers, a host of musicians and a choir. The words ‘Rock Opera’ didn’t fill me with confidence, but only on a couple of occasions does this resort to the expected power ballads and conceptual whimsy, with the remainder alternating majestic folk/rock and powerful, stately hard rock. Indeed, when the choir is performing this sometimes puts me in mind of Loudest Whisper’s peerless The Children Of Lir. An equally lavish Japanese reissue from 12 years later (Ams AMS 151 CD, triple CD, with gatefold minisleeve, booklet, poster booklet and obi) offers a remixed version of the set with Mellotron replacing some of the original synthesiser parts, plus an instrumental version on the third disc. GRADE: B–.
Zyder! (UK): Zyder! (Sentinel SEN LPP 507, 1974)
Wendy Haymes (occasional vocals), Virginia Tilly (occasional vocals), Teresa Nolan (flute), Jenny Gale (backing vocals), Anita Ellis (backing vocals), Mandy Howard (backing vocals), Anne Bullock (backing vocals)
No prizes for guessing from the title and label that this comes from the West Country – it’s in fact the soundtrack to a stage musical by Okehampton Comprehensive School. The good news is that there are no Wurzels-like elements: instead this is an environmental concept album. The bad news is that it’s a rather average school project album, with an echoey lo-fi sound and lots of strings and woodwind, though ‘A Thousand Summers Gone’ is a pleasant female-sung ballad. In any case, it certainly looks the part, with its low-budget minimalist paste-on sleeve, and was presumably a tiny pressing. GRADE: C.
Zylan (Canada): Rainbows, Dreams And Fantasies (Columbia ES 90235, 1973)
This is sometimes described as progressive, but in fact it’s jazzy and bluesy horn-rock, similar to a more lightweight Janis Joplin. Its most striking feature is probably the colourful and rather psychedelic gatefold sleeve. GRADE: C+.
Zylan (Canada): La Différence (Columbia FS-90244, 1973)
This isn’t their second album, but merely the French language version of Rainbows, Dreams And Fantasies. It comes in a completely different, and much inferior, single sleeve and is probably the rarer of the two issues. GRADE: C+.
Zyma (West Germany): Thoughts (ZA Productions 0381978, 1978)
Dorle Ferber (joint lead vocals, percussion, violin, flute)
Quite different from their earlier contributions to the Proton 1 sampler, this is eccentric and varied jazz-fusion. Demonstrating definite influences from sixties pop, it fringes avant-gardism, offers some funky moments and at times resembles everybody from Cos and ZAO to Urszula Dudziak and Renaissance. The end results are inconsistent and occasionally borderline incoherent, but mostly very listenable and certainly very creative. GRADE: B–.
Zyma (West Germany): Brave New World (No label 151079, 1979)
Dorle Ferber (principal vocals, violin)
A more straightforward album of laid-back jazz-fusion than its predecessor, this is an enjoyable set, often hinting towards a straighter and less experimental Cos. Nonetheless, despite some satisfying grooves and a few unusual classical and mediaeval edges, there isn’t a great deal of personality or individuality on display. GRADE: B–.
See also Various ‘Proton 1’
Zweistein (West Germany): Trip • Flip Out • Meditation (Philips 6630 002, with book sleeve featuring mirror, 1970)
Suzanne Doucet, Diane Doucet
Suzanne Doucet had been a reasonably successful pop singer in the sixties and went on to become a major name in new age music, but this project, alongside her sister Diane, studio engineer Peter Kramper and others, is something else entirely. A sprawling triple album that attempts to chart the three stages of an LSD trip, it mixes in snatches of folk music, quasi-classical keyboards and jamming rock but mostly consists of heavily processed electronics and sound effects, ranging from quasi-birdsong to chipmunk-like voices and children giggling. The only comparable project from seventies Germany was Maschine Nr. 9, but echoes of Zweistein’s sound can be heard in a number of eighties and nineties avant-rock/industrial bands. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about it is that it got a major label release – and in clearly expensive deluxe packaging too; one rumour suggests that Doucet was in a relationship with a Philips executive. As a final oddity, their sole single ‘I’m A Melody Maker’/‘A Very Simple Song’ was in a completely different vein, being cheerful and upbeat folk/pop.
Żywiołak (Poland): Nowa Ex-Tradycja (Karrot Komando kk25, CD, with slipcase, 2008)
Anucha Piotrowska, Iza Byra
This blend of ethnic folk styles and metal riffs – complete with quasi-tribal, borderline industrial drumming – is unusual, mantric and exciting. That said, this isn’t the most varied album in the world, making one wonder whether they’ll develop their style on later releases or simply settle for repeating themselves. GRADE: B–.
Żywiołak (Poland): Nowa Mix – Tradycja (Karrot Komando kk34, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2011)
Anucha Piotrowska (joint lead vocals, djembe), Iza Byra (joint lead vocals)
Releasing a remix collection for their second album was a decidedly odd move, though this isn’t bad as such things go. On the plus side, their own identity remains, with the dance music elements kept under control. On the other hand, ethnic-folk-trip-hop-metal isn’t a style I’m itching to hear again. GRADE: C+.
Żywiołak (Poland): Globalna Wiochna (Karrot Komando kk32, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2011)
Monika Wierzbicka (joint lead vocals), Karina Kumorek (joint lead vocals)
Their second album of new material sees them toning down their metal influences and becoming more eclectic and adventurous in their fusion of traditional Polish folk, contemporary rock styles, found sounds and more (including touches of sixties pop and even doo-wop). The result is a mature and impressive album with plenty of variety and interest. Oddly, this has a lower catalogue number than the remix set, though most discographies insist it was released later. GRADE: B–.
Żywiołak (Poland): Pieśni Pół/Nocy (Karrot Komando kk112, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2011)
Wiktoria Kwiatkowska (joint lead vocals), Emilia Zbierska (joint lead vocals), Olga Rembowska (joint lead vocals, violin)
In the six years since Globalna Wiochna they don’t appear to have learned any new tracks, but it doesn’t really matter – this is arguably their best album overall. They’ve become past masters at blending droning ethnic folk, rock, metal and all kinds of other elements into an intriguing and unusual stew, and the results constantly surprise and challenge. GRADE: B–.
Żywiołak (Poland): Muzyka Psychoaktywnego Stolema (Karrot Kommando KK70, CD, with digipak, 2016)
Olga Rembowska (joint lead vocals), Patrycja Zisch (joint lead vocals)
The opening track of this 24½-minute mini-album may make you think that Żywiołak have become too bombastic for their own good, and the spoken-word segments (seemingly dubbed from crackly vinyl) won’t make much sense to non-Polish ears. But there’s enough good stuff to get it over the line, though it’s much patchier than its predecessor. GRADE: B–.
Żywiołak (Poland): Wendzki Sznyt (Karrot Kommando KK127, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2019)
Wiktoria Kwiatkowski (joint lead vocals), Zuzanna Ciszewska (occasional vocals, percussion, violin)
Much more effective than the rather patchy EP that preceded it, this showcases Żywiołak at their best. It’s less bombastic and metallic than normal, which is no bad thing, and whilst there’s a limit to how varied their ethno-tribal-drone sound can be, it never fails to hold the attention. That’s a good metaphor for the band as a whole: they’re an odd outfit, but they’re consistently interesting. GRADE: B–.