27 September 2010

Magma Monday 12

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 Les Voix, a radically different interpretation of some of the classic Magma repertoire, recorded in 1992 in concert at the Jazz in the Bay Festival in Douarnenez, Brittany, France and released as the first volume in the band’s Akt series of archival releases…

“The music of Magma interpreted in acoustic performance by the band members of Offering - this was the idea behind Les Voix De Magma (The Voices of Magma), presented on the 2nd August 1992 at the Jazz in the Bay Festival at Douarnenez. Subtly re-arranged for 9 voices, double bass and keyboards, the themes underlying the Kobaian Universe here take on a new dimension. Full of power, captivating and lyrical, the absence of electricity takes nothing away from a repertoire which retains all its splendour. A fantastic success, but which at bottom is nothing amazing to those who understand that singing has always been the point of departure for Magma’s music.”

~~~~~From the Seventh Records page for this release

There are several things Magma fans know about Christian Vander…

1)       He loves jazz
2)       He loves acoustic music…keep in mind the heavy use of piano/Rhodes in Magma’s CV. (and yes, I know the Fender Rhodes is an electric instrument)
3)       He’s merged these two elements in the bands Offering and Welcome.

In 1992, Vander, ex-wife Stella, daughter Julie, a group of additional vocalists (including future Magma vocalist Isabelle Feuillebois) and Vander’s band Offering, came together for a show in Douarnenez under the name Les Voix De Magma (The Voices of Magma).  Recorded for this release, the material here recasts several Magma pieces in a far different light.

Gone is the heavy bass.  Gone are the interlocking Rhodes lines.  Present as always are the rich Magma vocals, augmented and built up in a nonet format.  Between this, the acoustic pianos, and much lighter drumming and percussion courtesy of Vander himself, the resultant recording feels like nothing less than a choral recital…something I am very familiar with considering my background in organised singing and classical choral work.  It’s actually a stunning reworking in a lot of ways…where Magma’s music can be bleak, oppressive, dark beyond belief, these vocal arrangements really take their cues from the translation of the word Zeuhl…’celestial.’  There is still heaviness here; that is something that I doubt can ever really change.  However, there is lightness, brightness…there are times that it sounds like choruses of angels singing from on high, and I mean that as the dearest compliment I can come up with.

We open up with an extract from Ëmëhntëht-Rê, at this point still pretty much incomplete, even though multiple sections of this piece had been released across several albums between the release of Üdü Wüdü, Attahk, and Live/Hhaï.  This short excerpt is essentially the opening few minutes of the suite, piano and acoustic bass setting a melodic motif under the mostly female vocals.  It builds slowly, as many of the best Magma compositions do, but this extract, bereft of the music that follows it in the suite, feels somewhat anticlimactic.  The piece that follows, ‘C'est Pour Nous,’ reminds me somewhat of both ‘Rinde’ (from Attahk) and portions of Kohntarkosz Anteria.  There are some wonderful piano parts on this piece, and Christian Vander offers up some fantastic male vocals that help to balance the more heavily female oriented chorus.  I’d be curious to see if the band/Vander might work up something more from this piece, or perhaps even simply come up with more of a band arrangement for it.  While I know that it seems Magma is far more busy with larger scale compositions these days, this is a piece that might well benefit from a fuller band arrangement as well.

Speaking of larger scale compositions…

Les Voix closes out with a pair of just that style piece.  The first is ‘Zëss,’ a piece initially released on the Akt album Bobino 1981.  At that time, it was an otherwise unreleased 30+ minute track in classic Magma style…slow, ominous building, subtle but unsettling conclusion.  While this acoustic/vocal arrangement is a good 13 minutes shorter (or more), it loses none of its ominous power.  In fact, the opening notes, long, deep bass tones sounding like the clarion call of something dark and oppressive heading toward the listener, are for me some of the heaviest, darkest moments in the entire Magma catalogue.  When vocals come in, about 1:30 into the piece, the resulting combination is incredibly impressive, reminding me of the opening of Ëmëhntëht-Rê or Köhntarkösz.  I’ll admit to not listening to the Bobino version very much (we’ll be discussing that album in the near future), but this is one I rate among Magma’s finest hours (OK, 17 to 30 minutes, is that better?).  While I know I would prefer to see the band craft something completely new for a future studio album, one kind of hopes that a proper full band studio recording of this composition can come to be before the end.

The final piece on Les Voix is an extract from Wurdah Ïtah.  Roughly 16 minutes of that 1972 album’s 39 minutes are performed here.  A simple but disarming piano line opens things up, vocals starting out light and very quiet, before huge piano chords break everything apart in the tensest way one might imagine.  There’s a wonderful balance between male and female vocals here, and when one considers the original album was recorded by a basic quartet (Christian Vander, Stella Vander, Klaus Blasquiz and Jannick Top), there was not much that necessarily needed to be done to translate this to this kind of format.  I like this version quite a bit, while fully admitting my preference for the original.  They are two different viewpoints on the same material, and while this was a successful translation, it simply does not touch me as deeply as the original (or other live, full band renditions) does.

The Les Voix style of performing Magma material is not limited to this one release; there have been other similar concerts in the past few years, and there is a live album from Japan (an official one) that pairs a 2005 live band performance of Kohntarkosz Anteria with a revamped Les Voix line up (Christian and Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois, Antoine and Himiko Paganotti on vocals and Emmanuel Borghi on piano) for renditions of Theusz Hamtaahk, Wurdah Itah and M.D.K.  But this is the first, the original, and while perhaps not to everyone’s taste (and perhaps not even to the taste of some Magma fans), it provides an enlightening and interesting look at this material that is every bit as risky as the originals were.  I may not reach for this one every time I want some Magma, but it’s a more than worthy addition to my collection, one I’d certainly miss if it were not there.

Track Listing:
1 - Ëmëhntëht-Rê (announcement) 3:39
2 - C'est Pour Nous 7:55
3 - Zëss 17:18
4 - Wurdah Ïtah (extrait) 15:46
Total time: 44:38

Stella Vander: vocals
Addie Deat: vocals
Julie Vander: vocals
Bénédicte Ragu: vocals
Isabelle Feuillebois: vocals
Jean-Christophe Gamet: vocals
Alex Ferrand: vocals
Jean-François Deat: vocals
Pierre-Michel Sivadier: keyboards
Simon Goubert: piano, keyboards
Philippe Dardelle: bass
Christian Vander: vocals, piano, drums

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