02 August 2010

Magma Monday 6

Welcome to Just Another Magma Monday. Once a week, your obd’t narrator and occasional blogger will trawl the expanses of his Magma collection to discuss something of Zeuhl-ish importance. Whether it’s the studio albums, the best of the AKT archive releases, one of the sundry live DVDs, or a choice artifact from his ‘unofficial’ collection, one thing is for sure…for this writer, Magma iss de hundin!

This week, sit back and relax as we take a look at Mythes Et Legendes Epok II, the second DVD in a series of four presenting the then-current Magma line-up performing a historical cross section of their catalogue over a 4 week stretch in Paris France.

I’ve spent a decent bit of time so far discussing Magma albums, as well as my first Magma concert and my discovery and subsequent developing fandom for the band and their music. Today I am planning on writing about the series of Magma DVDs that have been released under the omnibus title Mythes Et Legendes. These DVDs are not the first time Christian Vander has used this title for a release…back in 1985 Seventh Records issued an album by the same name intended as a sort of crash course in the themes of Magma in the 1970s. Fortunately, the DVDs are not such a constricted crash course…over an 8 hour stretch, viewers are treated to some excellent performances of material dating back to the band’s first studio efforts in 1970 through K.A., the then most recent studio album.

This first look at Mythes Et Legendes will see is starting somewhere in the middle…Epok II, which covers 2/3 of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy, along with a trio of other tracks featuring a guest appearance from Jannick Top, quite possibly Magma’s other most recognisable (former) member.

A bit of back story:

When Magma came back for their second NEARfest performance, I swore to myself that I’d get to meet them and get autographs. Knowing that generally speaking it’s considered polite to limit the number of items you request getting signed from a headliner, I decided on my programme and one of my two Mythes DVDs. After deliberating, I finally picked Epok II, as that one featured two of the three Theusz Hamtaahk suites. I’d hoped that everyone would sign it, but in the end only Christian did. He more than made up for the rest of the band, as a good quarter of the front cover is filled with his autograph and associated images.

When I moved about 6 months ago, I packed the DVD away for safe keeping. As I started unpacking, I couldn’t find it. I got frantic…I could replace the DVD, of course, but there’s no way I could replace the signature unless I saw the band live again. After weeks of looking, and frantic calls to the people who helped me move, I came to the conclusion it was lost…either in transit or left behind where I used to live, and as that place had been sold, well and truly long gone.

A few weeks back, as I went looking for other stuff, I came across a box I’d not looked in before.

You can, I am sure, guess the rest of the story.

Now that we’ve moved past the obligatory personal reminiscence, let’s look at the DVD.

This concert, like the others in this series, was filmed at Le Triton, a club in Paris France. From what I can see, the club is tiny…the band is tightly packed on stage. Yet Le Triton gets in some of the most amazing talent year after year. Magma’s done a number of residencies here, with the biggest one being the four week stand that resulted in these DVDs. Each week was dedicated to a single period of the band’s career…

Epok I: Magma/Kobaia, 1001 Degrees Centigrades
Epok II: Wurdah Itah, MDK, Udu Wudu
Epok III: Üdü Wüdü, Kohntarkosz, Attahk
Epok IV: K.A., Zess, Merci

These are obviously pretty general breakdowns, but you get the gist. During the second week of residency, Magma played a static setlist that drew majorly from the last 2/3 of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy. For me, these performances are pretty damned definitive…I know there is much to be said for the energy of youth, but these particular renditions are stately, massive, and to my ears well nigh perfect. The recording quality is so clear and expansive…bass notes roar and rumble from the speakers, while the choral vocals that are such a part of Magma’s identifiable sound are as defined and crisp as you can imagine. Behind it all, Christian Vander puts on a masterclass of jazz-inflected drumming, every bit the monster drummer he has always been. I still get chills every time I hear the Rhodes intro to MDK on this DVD, and there are moments on Wurdah Itah where Vander seems fully in trance as he plays.

One of the downers on a smaller stage is that you are somewhat limited in angles. There are some nice shots that are obscured by part of a monitor or bit of equipment, but this is countered by long shots that are given plenty of screen time. This is also a straight concert video…there are no overlays of projections or treatments to make things arty. If you want to see Magma playing live, well, that’s just what you get here. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

As mentioned, the majority of this DVD is dedicated to Wurdah Itah and Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh, the concluding movements of the band’s first trilogy. The remainder of offers a reunion of sorts with bassist Jannick Top, who played with the band from 1973 (MDK) through 1976 (Epok IIÜdü Wüdü). For many people, Top is ‘the’ bassist from Magma, even though so many others have had a hand in crafting the Magma bass sound over the years. Since leaving the band, Top’s been very active with a number of other musical projects, including Space, Vander/Top, and Infernal Machine. He’s also been very successful as a producer, working with artists like Bonnie Tyler, Eurythmics, Ray Charles and Céline Dion (and really, did you ever think you’d see her name mentioned in a post on my blog?).

Top joins the band on stage for Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh, replacing Philippe Bussonnet (the band’s current bassist). While I don’t believe that Top necessarily adds anything that Bussonnet lacks, it is a joy to see Vander and Top sharing the stage on the piece that is perhaps Magma’s hallmark composition. After a brief break, Top then opens his spotlight for this set with a rendition of Bach’s ‘Suite pour Violoncello No. 3 (BWV 1009),’ followed by a second bass piece, ‘Quadrivium.’ Both are enjoyable, if somewhat slight, performances, but they set the stage for the final major work on this release…Top’s epic ‘De Futura.’ Originally released on Üdü Wüdü, his final album with the band, the performance here is 21 minutes of bass and synthesizer madness. This take feels slightly more ponderous than the original studio album take, and while at first I didn’t find it as much to my enjoyment, now I find it more the equal of that original version. There’s a menace here that is almost palpable and physical in its presence, and having both Top and Bussonnet on stage was a great touch, as it reminded of the Air Bass and Earth bass of the Attahk era.

While I have yet to pick up any volumes of this series beyond II and III (believe me, they are on my list, but sometimes budgets have to be balanced toward non-essentials…you know, things like car insurance and rent rather than music), I have to believe that the remaining DVDs are every bit as enjoyable as the ones I have. Really, it’s very much like being able to see a Magma concert any time I want, with performances that are pretty close to definitive. If you love Magma like I do, yet are lacking these DVDs, I’d almost say you should turn in your fan card, because these are an essential part of any Zeuhl collection.

Track Listing:
Ẁurdah Ïtah 48:58
Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh 42:52
Suite pour Violoncello No. 3, BWV 1009 2:19
Quadrivium 3:55
De Futura 21:08

Band Members:
Stella Vander – chant, percussion
Antoine Paganotti – chant
Isabelle Feuillebois – chant
Himiko Paganotti – chant
James MacGaw – guitar, chant
Frederic d’Oelsnitz – Rhodes, clavier
Emmanuel Borghi – Rhodes, clavier
Phillippe Bussonnet – bass, piccolo bass
Jannick Top – bass
Christian Vander - drums

(Photograph: yr. obd't blogger's copy of Epok II, signed by Christian Vander)

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