Friday, April 3, 2015

Magma - 1975 - Live / Hhaï

Live / Hhaï (Köhntark)

101. Köhntark (Part One) (15:45)
102. Könntark (Part Two) (16:14)
103. Ëmëhntëht-Rê (Announcement) (8:10)

201. Hhaï (9:20)
202. Kobah (6:36)
203. Lïhns (4:55)
204. Da Zeuhl ?ortz Mëkanïk (6:14)
205. Mëkanïk Zaïn (18:57)

- Benoit Widemann / keyboards
- Bernard Paganotti / bass
- Christian Vander / drums, vocals
- Didier Lockwood / violin
- Gabrid Federow / guitar
- Jean-Paul Asseline / keyboards
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals
- Stella Vander / vocals

Describing the music of Magma will always be a challenge. In his colorful 1999 autobiography 'Repossessed', Julian Cope called the band "a Utopian Indo-European head trip who sang in their own language and wrote epic percussion and vocal-based mantras about a huge personal mythology". And here's Bill Bruford, one of the more firmly grounded personalities in Prog Rock at the time, interviewed by author Paul Stump for his 1997 book 'The Music's All That Matters': "They appeared to be an elemental force that was completely unlike anything else".

Yes, but what exactly does their music sound like? After first hearing the band on their 1975 'Live / Hhaï' double disc (twenty years late, but better than never), my own gut reaction won't be any more illuminating: imagine a division of bloodthirsty Munchkin panzers laying waste to the Land of Oz.

In more conventional terms, the music of Magma is intense, complex, operatic, obscure and hypnotic: the classic '70s Prog equivalent of what would later be called Math Rock, practiced long before the term was ever coined. References are made in their albums to John Coltrane, Carl Orff, the sacred liturgical chants of Dark Age monasteries...and if by now you're thoroughly confused, join the club. The only way to fully understand the music of Magma is to hear it, and this concert recording has long been acknowledged as the ideal introduction.

Prog fans of a certain age may experience, at first exposure to the band, a thrilling sense of déjà vu. This is music that clearly belongs on the same shelf as the early MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, or classic KING CRIMSON circa 'Starless and Bible Black', sharing the same passionate commitment to an uncompromising musical vision, and likewise featuring a mix of energetic Jazz-Rock drumming, distorted electric violin, and window- rattling bass guitar lines. Simply trade the spiky lead guitar accents of FRIPP or MCLAUGHLIN for the uncanny virtuosity of vocalists Klaus Blasquiz and Stella Vander, and the result is a not unfair comparison, here beamed down from a distant galaxy. No wonder Bill Bruford was impressed.

Sides One and Two of the first LP (yes, I opted for vinyl over the available CD: the eerie gatefold cover art was too attractive to pass up) is devoted to the epic 31- minute 'Köhntarkösz', played in its entirety. The escalating jam in Part Two is what initially converted me to a diehard fan, beginning with a beautifully understated melody on electric piano and gradually rising to a climactic frenzy, sparked by a particular drum fill by Magma honcho Christian Vander that never fails to send a shiver up my spine.

A trio of shorter sings can be found on Side Three. And the final side of vinyl is reserved for the last nineteen minutes of the fan-favorite 'Mëkanik Destruktïw Kommandöh', featuring an increasingly uncontrolled Didier Lockwood violin solo over a hyperactive, serpentine bass guitar figure, leading eventually to a typically gymnastic vocal finale that may well leave you slack-jawed and drooling.

Even better, at least one version of the compact disc apparently adds a further fifteen minutes of music not on the original vinyl (had I but known...), so it's past time to upgrade, fellow Kobaïans. Pardon the lengthy rave, but an indispensible five-star classic that opens up new musical vistas to the uninitiated deserves no less.

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