Friday, April 3, 2015

Magma - 1970 - Kobaïa


101. Kobaïa (10:15)
102. Aïna (6:15)
103. Malaria (4:20)
104. Sohïa (7:35)
105. Sckxyss (3:47)
106. Auraë (10:55)

201. Thaud Zaïa (7:00)
202. Naü Ektila (12:55)
203. Stöah (8:05)
204. Mûh (11:13)

- Christian Vander / drums, vocals
- Claude Engel / guitars, flute, vocals
- Francis Moze / electric bass, contrebass
- Francois Cahen / pianos
- Teddy Lasry / Soprano saxophone, first flute
- Richard Raux / Alto & Tenor saxophone, flute
- Alain Charlery (Paco) / trompet, percussion
- Klaus Blasquiz / backing vocals

This is the start of it all, coupled with the Univeria Zekt album, which is a strange early offshoot Magma project. Yes the genesis of the Kobaïan quest and Universe that will pre-occupy Vander's musical adventures, well beyond the obsession point. In all of the rock realm,, rarely has a group or project been so unique, inventive, original and influential. Indeed Vander's strange mix of Coltrane influences with Stravinsky and Carl Orff is so stupendous and flabbergasting that they almost involuntarily created the l music genre on their own, which is as far as I know the only case in all of music.

Among the astronauts that pioneered the Kobaïan galaxy's exploration are singer Klaus Blazquiz, bassist Francis Moze (later in GonG, and the pioneer in Zeuhl bass playing), keyboardist Faton Cahen, reedmen Lasry, Raux and Charlery and guitarist/flutist Claude Engel, and of course Vander himself. This double debut album was recorded in March 70 and was produced by the future French production legend Laurent Thibault. When the album was released in June of that year, it sported an awesome eagle-paw, creating havoc and destruction of the Kobaïan civilization and these red fangs became the fangs of the Magma emblem and logo that was already in use so early in the group's history.

Difficult to describe such original sonic madness, because comparing it to another artiste is obviously reductive for Magma music. The music is generally repetitive, but not minimalist, usually finding a groove and slowly altering itself to evolve in the generally lengthy hypnotic movements. Contrarily to most future albums of theirs, Kobaïa has some space for good and lengthy solos, although I wouldn't call that a major feature in this album, but it does help the album's different soundscape, along with the horn section (sometimes reminiscent of Chicago), but the music is still often more "jazz-rock" than the pure Zeuhl music of the albums to come.

The second disc has a slightly different sound, partly because of Laurent Thibault's composition of Nau Ektila and guitarist Engel's Thaud Zaia and also the following Vander-written track Stoah, which were all written months later than the main body of Kobaia's concept. You'll find a different Magma on the two Non-Vander tracks, especially on Thibault's tune, which has a wide spectrum, sometimes approaching dissonance. Stoah is also a very weird track,, with Blasquiz's crazy vocal passage early on in the track and the quiet moments on the flute later on.

If the original vinyls of this album (released on XXX label) are getting rare, you should now see the Seventh Records label CD versions popping up on the second-hand market, because most of the group's discography gas been recently remastered and re-issued on a subsidiary Les Chants Du Monde label of Seventh Records. The remastered copy on this double Kobaïa album comes in an impressive digipak with an extensive booklet filled with notes and clues to enter the Magma realm, which is of course appreciable, but not fundamental. I personally find the sound better on this remastered version, but the previous issue was already good. If you're afrais of not getting the Magma-ian code to understand their musical adventures, this is really the album you should be starting with, because it's not yet a full-blown Zeuhlian choral work as will the next few albums be. So it(s got many traces of the future musical madness, but it's still dealing with many of its fully secular twists to come. Having revisited this album recently, it might be one of my top 3 Vanderite records.

MAGMA is a progressive group led by drummer/composer/vocalist Christian VANDER that has been active in the 'classic period' and in the 21th century. The music of MAGMA is often categorized as 'Zeuhl' (which means 'celestical' of 'heavenly' in Kobaïan, MAGMA's own language). The band doesn't clearly fit in any other progressive subgenre, though avant-prog would qualify.

Swirling riffs in odd time signatures, theatrical choir arrangements, heavy and distorted pulsing bass guitar, bombastic and minimalistic (sometimes both at the same time), dark and brooming, adventurous and angelic, jazzy or classical, but always with the highly innovative and original drums of founder and main composer Christian VANDER. The music of MAGMA is adopted by the progressive rock movement, though even for progressive standards it is very hard to get into because of its 'other worldly sound' and its extended compositions of often more then thirty minutes. The band has had almost no connection whatsoever with other bands of the progressive genre, though in France it would prove to be a big inspiration for other Fusion and Zeuhl bands. It is often though that the modern classical music of Carl ORFF (for instance Carmina Burana) must have been a big influence to MAGMA. VANDER himself has claimed on several occasions that his main influence was the jazz saxophone player John COLTRANE, and listening to COLTRANE's version of 'My favorite things' we do find a hint to what was to become the Zeuhl genre. Legend goes that MAGMA was formed after a vision that was revealed in a dream of Christian VANDER about a spiritual and ecological future for mankind. This vision would influence the three different multi-part saga's, namely the Kobaïan saga (debut and 1001 Centigrates), the Köhntarkösz triology (Kohntarkosz Anteria or K.A., Köhntarkösz and Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré) and the Theusz Hamtaahk triology (Theusz Hamtaahk, Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh or M.D.K and Wurdah Ïtah). The third studio-album of MAGMA, M.D.K., is often seen as the genre defining Zeuhl album, whereas the first two MAGMA albums have stronger jazzrock/fusion leanings and less Orffian choir arrangements.

Being heavily disturbed by his vision, classically trained drummer and composer Christian VANDER formed the first version of MAGMA in 1969 in Paris as a means to give musical expression to his fears for humanity. With a small list of fusion and rhythm and blues musicians, among them some wind-players and one of MAGMA's main vocalists; Klaus BLASQUIZ, the band created a double concept album heavenly drenched in fusion, avant-prog and modern classical music. In order to be fully capable of expressing the artistic vision of the band all lyrics were written in Kobaïan. Vander would later state that "when I wrote, the sounds [of Kobaïan] came naturally with it - I didn't intellectualize the process by saying "Ok, now I'm going to write some words in a particular language", it was really sounds that were coming at the same time as the music." The debut album would tell the story of a group of earthlings that start a new civilization on the planet Kobaia in order to be able to live in harmony with nature whilst using advanced technology. The second halve of the record tells of a rescue of an earth space vessel. The saved earthlings are amazed at by the Kobaïan society and ask for help in order to save planet earth, which by that time is plagued by man-made disasters that threaten the survival of the planet. The Kobaïans decide, after some discussion, to send a small party to accompany the earthlings back home.

The second MAGMA album, '1001° Centigrades', was released in 1971 and showed the band becoming more professional and tight. In the meanwhile the compositional skills of VANDER had grown, which resulted in the first lengthy MAGMA piece 'Rïah Sahïltaahk ', which can be seen a step toward what would become the Zeuhl genre. On the second side the music has a strong jazz-rock/fusion feel, whilst keeping faithful to the avant-prog sound of the debut album. The album chronicles about the arrival of the Kobaïan delegation on planet earth and their imprisonment. As a reaction to this the Kobaïan civilization threatens to use their ultimate weapon, which is likely to be reason for the title of the album.

In 1973 the band would return to the studio to record 'Mekanïk Kommandöh'. The recording was refused by their record company which resulted in the recording of 'Mëkanïk Dëstruktï? Kömmandöh' (M.D.K.) in the same year. The discarded recording was later released by Seventh Records in 1989 and can be seen as a rawer version of M.D.K. with a bigger emphasis on drums and without the wind-section. 'M.D.K.' is often cited as a milestone for rock history because it is the first album to feature the signature sound of MAGMA and it can be seen as the foundation of the Zeuhl genre in general. Whereas the wind-section would be less jazzy, it would prove to be a very powerful tool in giving the music an imperial and dark feel, only to be further enriched with female choir arrangements over repetitive piano motives in daring time signatures. This made 'M.D.K.' one of the most bombastic and daring records of the seventies. On 'M.D.K.' Christian VANDER's wife, Stella VANDER, would make her entry and would from then on be an important member of the band. Former bass-player Francis MOZE was replaced by Jannick TOP, who would add the heavy distorted bass-guitar sound to the Zeuhl style. His influence on MAGMA would rise the coming years, which makes him a co-founder of the Zeuhl genre for many of its listeners. The story-line would continue with Nebehr Gudahtt, a prophet heavily influence by Kobaïan philosophy who prophesies 'Theusz Hamtaahk' (Time of Hatred), which would be the name of the trilogy of which 'M.D.K.' would prove to be the closing piece. As the crowds march in anger against Gudahtt, they start asking existential questions. This results in sympathy for the prophet's words and people start marching with him instead of against him, averting the before mentioned doom.

In the 1974 Christian VANDER would work on a soundtrack album for the avant-garde film 'Tristan and Isolt', by Yvan LAGRANGE. The album features a stripped down version of MAGMA, consisting of piano, drums, bass and vocals. Whereas the album was released as a Christian VANDER solo-album, it is nowadays perceived as a full-blown MAGMA album under the name of '?urdah Ïtah' (Dead Earth), being the second movement of the 'Theusz Hamtaahk'-trilogy. The first movement of the the trilogy, the title track, was never recorded in the studio and would make its first appearance on the 1981 live album 'Retrospektiw I'. Nowadays the '?urdah Ïtah'-album is an acclaimed MAGMA record in which VANDER shows the band can be equally impressive with a smaller group of musicians, making a very well composed Zeuhl album that has its distinct place within the discography of the band.

In the same year MAGMA would release a studio album under its own flag, the dark and brooming experience called 'Köhntarkösz'. VANDER would embark on a new chronicle, this time about a man called Köhntarkösz who enters the tomb of an ancient master called Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, who died whilst reaching for immortality. In the tomb Köhntarkösz receives a vision in which the master his secrets are revealed to him. In the next year the band would release the double live album 'Live' (otherwise known as Hhaï or Köhntark) on which a reworked version of Köhntarkösz would be played in its entirety. This live album is often seen as one of the best live-albums of the progressive rock genre, because it shows the unmatched precision and professionalism of the band on stage. Quite frankly, the level of musicianship and interplay is almost unbelievable. On this live-album bass-player Bernard PAGANOTTI would make his entry, though he and Jannick TOP would both make contributions to the upcoming record.

In 1976 the band's direction changed. With the progressive movement on it's decline MAGMA decided to make an album 'Üdü ?üdü' with shorter songs on the first side and one dark avant-garde epic 'Du Futura' on the second side. From now on the band leaves very few clues for a story-line, though on the record's sleeve one can find a description of the story of 'Du Futura'. Other band-members would contribute on the song-writing, with pieces of PAGANOTTI & BLASQUIZ, VANDER and Jannick TOP (who would write both 'Ork's Sun' and 'Du Futura'). 'Du Futura' is seen as a classic MAGMA creation, with its dark pulsing bass-lines, grooming vocals, striking minimalism and unearthly style. The other tracks feature different styles and hints to them, such as spiritual music, ghost-house music, world music and even some disco-rhythms do appear. The synthesizer would make its entry into the sound-mix, though it's minimalistic use is quite distinctive. After a VANDER & TOP tour bass-player TOP left the band, which led to the entry of Guy DELACROIX on the 1978 'Attahk' album. The album has seven pieces and is perhaps the most diverse MAGMA album, whilst fans might point out that MAGMA's former balance and vision is strongly on the decline (though others will argue this was already the case on 'Üdü ?üdü'). VANDER would sing the lead-vocals in a very extravert and experimental way and funk, gospel, eastern music can be found amongst the material. Both 'Üdü ?üdü'' and 'Attahk' are plagued by their muddy recording quality and blessed by the open experimental mindset of the band at the time. After 1978 MAGMA was disbanded.

In 1984 the much debated 'Merci' was released under both the MAGMA and the Christian VANDER flag. This album features tracks full of soul, disco and funk influences and a typical eighties production. Though neglected by many fans of the band, others point out it's an album that can be enjoyed once perceived as a product of it's time. In 1990 Seventh Records was founded, a record-company owned by VANDER that would release several live albums from the classic period as well as new releases to come.

In the year 2001 MAGMA-fans from all over the world celebrated the return of the band and the live document ´Theusz Hamtaahk´ was released, covering the complete trilogy played live in great shape. Quickly the band regained a top-notch reputation giving gigs of unbelievable precision and intensiveness for the avant-garde public. The new reincarnation would feature Christian VANDER, Estelle VANDER, guitar-player James MAC GAW, bass-player Philippe BUSSONET and a short list of male and female vocalists.

The highly acclaimed 'K.A.' Followed in 2004. This album consisted mainly of peaces that had already been released on some live-albums dating from the classic line-up. The style, sound and feel of the album is remarkably faithful to the sound of classic era MAGMA. The album is the first peace of the Köhntarkösz-trilogy and chronicles about the summoning of Köhntarkösz towards the tomb of Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré. In 2009 the third part of this trilogy would be released 'Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré', which proved to be a strong continuation artistically as well as an good entry-point for newcomers of the Kobaïan saga.

In the years 2006-2008 the band would set out to play and record MAGMA peaces from throughout their career in a live setting, resulting in four of live-footage of all MAGMA-era's with appearances of former band-members such as Jannick TOP and Klaus BLASQUIZ. This ´Mythes Et Légendes´ series was extremely well received by fans of the band and proved that the band could still faithfully reproduce all its peaces, even the avant-prog/fusion peaces from the first two albums. Personally I would qualify this as one of the biggest achievements of progressive music in general.

In 2012 the band released the short album ´Félicité Thösz´ with a completely new 30 minuted Zeuhl piece. This album stands out as the most accessible and optimistic feeling album of the band, whilst still being as well composed and played as other 21th century recordings of the band.

Retrospection. In the end we still don't know whether the fearful dream that was the starting point for the story of MAGMA is to become reality. Yet is had led to one of the most artistically and technically well developed musical movements of 20th & 21th century music. MAGMA is attractive for its imagination, for its untouchable larger-then-life atmospheres and its fearless artistic attitude. Looking back on writing this biography I think I can state what makes the band different from all other bands in the world. Some bands gave us extended song-writing, others gave us new atmospheres to dwell into, but MAGMA gave its music a self-invented cultural framework from which the music can be perceived. MAGMA-fans themselves turn into Kobaïans - for at least as long as the music takes, dwelling into the imagination of Christian VANDER: the man who was a drummer, vocalist, composer and perhaps above all a musical social architect.

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