23 August 2010

Magma Monday 8

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 Epok III, the third DVD volume of the Mythes Et Legendes series, filmed live at Le Triton in Paris France between 24 and 28 May 2005.

Back on 2 August I discussed Epok II, the Magma DVD that featured two thirds of the Theusz Hamtaahk trilogy, along with some other selected pieces featuring monster bassist Jannick Top. This week we’re returning to the Mythes Et Legendes DVD series to take a look at volume III. This one features one of the other major guest musicians present for these four weeks of filming and recording, one Benoit Widermann. Widermann joined the band in 1975 and was first featured on the band’s first full length live album, Live/Hhaï. He remained with the band for the albums Attahk, Retrospectiw I-II, Retrospectiw III and Merci.

Epok III features material based around the second trilogy of Magma albums (Köhntarkösz, Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê and K.A.)…specifically, the first two albums listed there. Of course, when this show was recorded, Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê had yet to be completed and fully realised…instead we mostly get the bits that would be strewn across Üdü Wüdü and Attahk.

But first, we open with Köhntarkösz.

This is one of my favourite versions of this piece. I love the tension as everyone stands on stage, silent. Vander holds his sticks firmly in hand, and the band waits, stick still. Antoine Paganotti moves around his mic stand, smiling a little bit, before his face takes on a look of deadly seriousness. He grasps the mic, forcefully chants out the Kobaian word ‘Hamtai!’ and the band explodes. To my eyes there is an improvement of video from Epok II, as the stage seems brighter, the camera shots utilise a lot more cross fading, and angles seem a bit more inspired to my eyes. The band really tears into the meat of this piece, which took up the vast majority of Köhntarkösz (the remaining 9 and a half minutes of that album would be dedicated to a piece by Vander invoking John Coltrane, and a Jannick Top piece titled ‘Ork Alarm.’). Can I pick a favourite bit! Not likely! Vocals are brilliant, the bass work is sublime, Vander’s drumming is as precise as ever, and Widemann’s synth additions are spot on. It’s just a great rendition all the way around.

Christian steps out from behind the kit for a gorgeous rendering of ‘Lihns,’ a beautiful ballad with hand percussion, pulsing bass, and warm, almost spiritual singing. Vander’s voice is perfect for this style of song, and I love hearing him singing with the rest of the vocalists quietly chanting behind him. Wideman’s synth playing is quiet and restrained (there’s some great Moog on this one!), and James MacGaw adds to and doubles Widemann’s melodic lines. At just under 7 minutes, it’s a wonderful breather after the mania of Köhntarkösz, easing things back before the band kicks into full gear again.

Until Magma released Ëmëhntëhtt-Rê at the end of 2009, most of what we knew of the piece was fragmentary. Most of us were familiar with the extract released on the CD issue of Üdü Wüdü. We’d heard that the full work included bits like ‘Zombies,’ ‘Hhaï’ (which obviously featured on the band’s live album that shared the same name) and ‘Rindoh’ (which was released on 1979’s Attahk as ‘Rindë (Eastern Song’). As for the rest? No real clue. The suite that Magma assembled for these concerts gave us a bit of a clue what the album as a whole might sound like, years before actually assembling it. Totaling around 34 minutes, it was a bit of an early hinting of what Vander was working on for the next major Magma album. Heavy on synth and bass, these pieces pulled together really help to make sense of the bits and pieces spread across the alter day Magma albums, and makes one wish that there had been some way for this material to be properly handled from the get go.

Two more pieces close out this DVD. The first of these is ‘Nono,’ another track excerpted from 1979’s Attahk album. Opening with an amazingly fluid and elastic bass line from Phillippe ‘Bubu’ Bussonnet and almost strident, but quiet Antoine Paganotti vocals, this is a track that combines the jazz and spiritual sides of Vander’s musical loves. The first time I heard this, I was somewhat less than impressed. The second time, layers opened. By the third time I played it (off the Attahk album) I started wondering what a whole album of material like this might sound. Now I absolutely love it. I love how it slowly builds in intensity. I love the bass line. I love the vocals. There’s not a single thing about it I don’t like. Is it typical Magma? Probably not. But it’s amazing, and it has their name stamped all over it. The shots showing Paganotti’s singing show just how much he put into his work with the band; it continues to be a shame that he is no longer with Magma.

Epok III ends with ‘The Last Seven Minutes.’ On Attahk it lasted 7 minutes. Here we get 11 minutes 13 seconds of it. It does make me wonder why they didn’t retitle it for the DVD release to ‘The Last Eleven Minutes,’ but that might be confusing. In any event, this is an intense jazz/fusion workout done Zeuhl style, with Kobaian lyrics and vocals laid over top. It’s one of the faster pieces in Magma’s catalogue, and it’s one that can’t help but get the heart pulsing just a bit faster. It’s perhaps the only appropriate piece to close out this volume of the series.

A lot of times, when I need a serious kick in the arse musically, this is what I reach for. There’s moments of sublime pastoral beauty, and moments of fiery intense music. All sides of Magma’s main sequence playing are on fine display here, and if you had to pick one Magma DVD to check out for a first exposure to them live, this is the one you should pick. And I don’t say that lightly. More than essential…more like pretty much required.

Track Listing:
Ëmëhntëht-Rê part 1
Ëmëhntëht-Rê part II
The Last Seven Minutes

Bonus Material
The Last Seven Minutes (from inside the drum kit): a drums only cut of this track, featuring only cameras locked on Chrisitian Vander.

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
Benoit Widemann – bass
Christian Vander – drums

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