Mike McLatchey 4-October-2002 Coulonneaux / A Neuf

Ensembles performing a chamber music variation of progressive rock often get compared to Univers Zero and Art Zoyd, but if the list is stretched, Belgians Julverne are likely to find themselves in the number three slot. Taking their name from one of the earliest speculative fiction writers, Julverne peform a classically inspired music, whose (very) occasional tangents into darker territory within this chamber sort of format undoubtedly draw comparisons to their more well known Belgian contemporaries. They included a revolving line up led by flute and sax player Pierre Coulon and violin and trombone player Jeannot Gillis.

In fact, Julverne has shared musicians with Univers Zero, including Dirk Descheemaker and Michel Berckmans. So there is really no surprise that there are similarities in style to both bands. However, Julverne is more like Univers Zero's happier, more cosmopolitan younger brother. The ensemble's first album was released in 1979, and unlike their more aggressive musical brethren, Julverne don't have any drums. In fact, they only seem to be a rock band by comparison, as this truly seems to be a chamber group performing original music with influences of Satie, Bartok, Debussy, and the less dissonant measures of Stravinksy. The instrumentation is typical of chamber music with piano, strings, horns and winds, and these are arranged in many lovely ways over Coulonneux's ten-track duration. In fact, the similarities to Univers Zero and Art Zoyd are largely the musical format, as this is never angry or strident in the least. However, Julverne was certainly considered an experimental band by the musical collective that made it up, and the compositions reflect an exploratory ethic in their use of keys, modes and arrangements. Without getting into music theory, it can still be said that most of the compositions often start out in a fresh and accessible mode before veering off into a tangent belying the 20th Century influences of the band. It's a gorgeous album and rather idiosyncratic, even in comparison to the ensemble's RIO-drafted contemporaries.

A Neuf was an even more mature effort, starting with an ambitious three-piece suite. While Julverne's chamber music approach implies a sort of serious study, musically there were bits of humor sneaking into the compositions nonetheless, such as the second part of the suite, "Un Peu Pretentieux" (A Bit Pretentious). Musically this is also true, with the ensemble's occasional tangents into sly, goofy, or zany territory. One may be listening to some beautiful arranged chamber piece before the whole group speeds off in another direction, as if Bugs Bunny was yet again leading Elmer Fudd off on another wild goose chase. In fact, if anything sets apart Julverne from cousins Univers Zero, it's this omnipresent playfulness. Only a group of skilled musicians and composers could pull off such a thing in such complex and involved compositions. Not a piece of music is anything but entertaining here, rich in ideas, spontaneity, dynamic diversity and mood. Perhaps it's more a tribute to such classy music that Julverne finds itself in such company with bands like Univers Zero in Belgium's most interesting lineage of experimental chamber music ensembles.

While the first two albums by Julverne might be considered the formative work of the ensemble, the band would release two more albums, 1983's Emballade and 1986's Ne Parlons Pas de Mahleur, before dissolving. In 1992, the Igloo label would release a retrospective of these albums (Le Retour du Captain Nemo) including a great deal of music from the early albums. Julverne also reformed recently to release 2000's Le Pavillion des Passions Humanies.

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