France's Art Zoyd have been incorrectly identified by the rock press for decades as a "progressive rock" band. Early on they pursued psychedelic rock, and later their own take on minimalism and other vanguard classical music, proto-industrial experimentation, collective improvisation, strategic and painstaking film scores, dance, theater, and conceptual work. They belong everywhere and nowhere, but they remain members of the radically under-appreciated Rock in Opposition movement they helped to found.
Art Zoyd have been subject to retrospectives before, but nothing compares to the sprawling, intimidating, and glorious 44 1/2 Live & Unreleased Works box from Cuneiform. It covers AZ's career -- in aesthetic rather than chronological order, with a staggering eight CDs of live recordings (many unreleased) from 1972-2004, four more CDs of unreleased studio recordings, demos, sketches, and outtakes from 1980-2005. It also contains two DVDs: One contains their complete reunion performance at 2015's Rock in Opposition Festival in Le Garric, France, while the second compiles television appearances including a concert from East Berlin in 1986 and a performance of Live on Phase IV from FR3 (the latter was witnessed in part by future collaborator, choreographer Roger Petit). This gorgeously packaged box designed by London-based Max Franosch contains two foldout posters and two booklets -- one of photos and another with a textual history, track annotation, and interviews with Gerard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff. There are far too many highlights to mention, but some including complete performances of AZ's scores to the silent films Haxan and Nosferatu, disc nine's four unreleased cues from their score to F.W. Murnau's Faust, and five tracks by "Les Presidents," a completely fictional band made up of AZ members on disc nine. The latter are especially wonderful as they combine the band's sense of rhythm and drama with the existential dread of a John Carpenter film score. Discs 11 and 12 contain mostly incidental theater pieces, comprising some of the immense work AZ have done for the stage, including a complete performance of the music from Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers and a Didier Fillier-directed Marco Polo. Disc one contains all but two tracks (found on disc two) of a 1989 performance in West Berlin, showcasing the band's complete musical range. Disc three hosts a 2000 performance of u.B.I.Q.U.e. that finds the quintet building on the electronic work from Haxan, but appending it with accompaniment by 49 musicians including 13 guitarists and 10 drummers. Disc six's chaotic and wondrous performance for children, "La Nuit Du Jabberwock," with members of Ensemble Musique Nouvelles, is yet another standout. Yes, 44 1/2 Live & Unreleased Works is for the most obsessive fans of AZ and the Rock in Opposition movement, but it shouldn't be. This group, who even now run a studio that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration with a host of artists from across the globe, remains a standard-bearer for music and art making. This box provides incontrovertible proof.