Unk: Now

The PR from French label Circum-Disc opens by saying “We don’t really know how to pronounce _Unk” – obviously they say it “On ne sait pas vraiment comment…” and talks about “progressive, sometimes experimental” jazz, which always makes us nervous. This is not helped by the album opening with the drummer hitting something metallic, possibly a muffled bell, and the sax making a noise like bees overdosing on Benedictine.

But a minute in, the bees vanish and you get proper music, a strong groove and some nice baritone sax. It’s clearly jazz but there’s something of world music, African funk and a space rock jam about it, too. Like the brilliant B/Y Orgasm Czech jazz album we reviewed the other week, the _Unk guitar is as likely to be playing blues as jazz. There’s nothing to dislike about opener L’Ail Des Ours – it’s exciting and eccentric, and got a strong groove; bassist Matthiue Millet composes so perhaps expected. Track two, Andrinople, is a bit more out there, though fans of Gong will find it a little familiar. O Sacrum Convivium (O Sacred Banquet) is based on a short motet for four-part mixed chorus by Olivier Messiaen and is more familiar jazz, though slow and a little melancholy, while Starkestre changes the mood completely, exploding after the quiet previous track.

Fans of Gong will also find this familiar, the bass line borrowing from You Can’t Kill Me, the drums throwing in a couple of Gong killer fills, and _Unk as a whole as adept at sudden changes in mood and tempo as Daevid Allen’s outfit.

Patate Douce (sweet potato – in the opening song, l’ail is garlic, so maybe they covered O Sacred Banquet for a reason) – is tighter and slightly more jazz than rock; Zur is very 1960s, and closer Vicolo is almost late night jazz, gradually building up into a prog-ish but melodic crescendo, the jazz sax going well with more rock-based guitar.

An interesting and meaty album, for those who like progressive jazz, jam bands and Gong. _Unk is JB Rubin, alto and baritone saxophones; Christophe Maerten, guitar; Charles Duytschaever, drums; Mathieu Millet, bass and compositions.

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