|Calling Planet Kobaia: An Introduction to Magma. The First 20 Years (Give or Take)|
(12391 total words in this text)
Traditional wisdom has it that the reason that France never produced a rock band of world-wide renown is that the French language doesn't lend itself to rock lyrics; that to be popular throughout the world, the language of rock had to be English, and particularly American English. This seems to create a dichotomy, an either-or situation in which one needs to produce music in English language or suffer economic consequence. In 1969 and 1970, there simply were no French rock bands of international repute, largely due to this dichotomy.
How to solve such a dichotomous problem? Much like Captain Kirk solving the problem of the Kobiyashi Maru by breaking the rules, so Christian Vander realized that the problem did not have to be a dichotomy. His answer? Create a new language, one that met linguistic and syntactical protocols and which was also artistically expressive. The impact of the first Magma record on the French musical scene in early 1970 was like a bomb going off in a quiet church. Here was an audacious debut, a double record set of mythic and epic stature, written and sung in a language created by the band's leader.
Much has been written about the early life of Christian Vander. Stepson of film music writer Maurice Vander, Christian Vander was born in 1949 and came from Balkan and Gypsy stock. He grew up in a family heavily influenced by jazz, classical and gypsy music. Vander's earliest musical interests seemed to be American soul music and the free energy jazz of the mid-1960s. In point of fact, Vander more than anyone has kept the spiriti opf John Coltrane alive, continuing to this day to make music of Coltranesque stature and influencing twenty years of French musicians.
Some of Vander's earliest musical gigs were with Arthur Conley (1968), Mal Waldron (1969) and with Chick Corea and Grachan Moncur at the Antibes Jazz Festival in late 1969, where Christian played an early version of "Malaria" (later to appear on the first Magma record). At the same time, he had fallen under the influence of friendship of Coltrane's drummer, Elvin Jones, a friendship that continued for many years.
By 1969, Christian had already formed two bands, Cruciferius Lobonz and Les Wurdulaks (which had grown out of the band Chinese). Some of the music created by these bands presaged the type of rhythmic development that occurred later in "Mekanik Destuktiw Kommandoh." It was under the suggestion of bassist and producer Laurent Thibault that Christian formed a touring band with Thibault on bass, Vander on drums, Francis Moze on organ (later on bass in other versions of Magma) and Zabu on vocals. The band took the name Magma from a song by Les Wurdulaks called "Nogma"; Magma seemed to carry a better density for the music being theorized by the neophyte group. They were attempting to fuse rock sensibilities to the energies created by individuals such as Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. In a very short while, Zabu left and was replaced most significantly by Klaus Blasquiz, a man who was a gifted graphic artist and cartoonist as well as a visibly provocative front man with an operatic style (unusual in that he came from a series of blues bands) and a very hirsute physical appearance. The groundwork was now in place, and the first record was soon to come.
Magma - "Kobaiah"
"Tous les chants et vocaux sont en Kobaia, notre propre langue.
La Musique est assez expressive pour que vous puissez suivre de
vous-memes le fil du voyage"
Kobaia- Astounding was the word used upon the release of Magma's first record. How audacious to release a record double, partly sung in a created language. Kobaia, which opens the record, starts with a minor vamp led by piano (Cahen), drums (Vander) and the crazed singing of Klaus Blasquiz. Already in evidence was Christian Vander's preoccupation with science fiction and Univeria Zekt, The Perfect Man (which later led to charges of Nazism). Some of the best French musicians were on this record - Claude Engel, Moze, Teddy Lasrey, Richard Raux, "Paco" Charlery. Later motifs first appeared here - Vander's startling falsetto, free jazz emphasis, minor key chants, mixed with a rock sensibility. The Coltrane influence is only formative here, quite subtle. Kobaia segues into a free section, then a modal saxophone romp of serene nature. This is truly an imposing band, one light years ahead of any other French band and the equal of any others in the world. The year is 1970; avante rock is a rarity. This sounds modern in 2013. The drumming is impressive; Christian is 23.
Aina - This shows a distinct Soft Machine influence, though Christian has never claimed the Softs as an influence. Aina, the "debut of the Voyage" is a song of the trip to the planet Malaria. Moving grandly through the depths of space and mind. As always, the drums lead this song as it picks up speed and becomes more rockish. The intensity picks up as the band moves into light speed. Engel comps mightily. This band breaks all the rules - the guitar takes few leads and is usually back in the mix, rhythm is king, and movement. The drums are up front and everywhere. The bass rumbles, as almost all Magma bassists have. At the end, the song fragments into shards of steel.
Malaria - A two-chord vamp reminiscent of McCoy Tyner in mid-period Coltrane. Surpassing power can be built with only two cords. There is nothing in rock in 1970 to compare this to; there is still nothing to compare this to today. One can hear later offering in the motific power of this song.
Sohia - One of four songs on the album not written by Vander, this is composed by Teddy Lasrey. This song is led by the flutes of Lasrey, Raux and Engel(1), and shows a mild Crimsonish emphasis, or perhaps of Fireballet (or could it be the reverse). Lots of unison lines and playing between flutes, bass and guitar. There is even a slight blues interlude.
Sckxyss - composed by Francois Cahen, again this is based only on two chords, but is thematically and musically linked to earlier songs on the album. This song is surprising in light of the later musical career of Cahen as a solo pianist of unearthly changes. This has Klaus singing in operatic style, something he would take to far greater extremes in the epic songs of Mid-Magma.
Airral - This starts with electrically altered chanting by Klaus, then the flute takes up the melody as the song becomes more jagged. There is a childlike quality to this composition, which represents the visit to the planet of the Kobaians; there is an innocence projected here, though the neo-Germanic chanting belies this.
Thaud Zaia - This early Magma's existence, Christian had not yet fully developed the Kobaian language nor taken on his alter-persona of Zebehn Strain De Gustah. Later Magma members were all given new names; Stella Vander became known as Taud Zaia. This is a song of love, though for the life of me I do not know if it relates to the relationship between Stella & Christian Vander. As a love song, this is an odd one, almost baroque in its regal progression. This was written by Claude Engel. The flute break bears resemblance to the sonic experiments of Anthony Braxton or Roscoe Mitchell; these guys were listening to a lot of different music and synthesized it into a new form.
Nau Ektila - This is written by Laurent Thibault, who was producer and engineer, but did not play on this record. A bassist of some note, his song begins as a pleasant acoustic guitar and bongos excursion. This is a very "hippie-ish" song. As it becomes more electric, it begins to sound like a film soundtrack, perhaps reflecting the sounds of Vander Pere; it may be parts of "Nau Ektila" that Magma is playing in a film clip of them performing for some Priests, who (all but one) have absolutely no clue as to what to make of this music. An episodic song that goes from acoustic peaceful sounds to free jazz shrieks to electric rock and back again. You could see Vander trying ideas, discarding them, and trying others until the ultimate heady mix is realized.
Stoah - A falsetto shriek opens this song. There is trouble in Kobaian, as huge blasts of sounds occur. The word "Glao" (blood) is yelled. Something is terribly wrong. A piano jitters nervously, and Klaus intones in his unique style . A more militaristic beat occurs. The planet Kobaia is up in arms.
Muh - Here there will be resolution of some kind. The song has an ascending and descending motif, which is followed by jazzy section, which then becomes progressively darker and sounds similar at times to the Mothers of Invention.
All in all, an amazing debut and one in which much of later Magma and Offering can be found, if in primitive fashion here.
Magma - 1001° Centigrade
"Reugh dusz dun, loi dusz glao, Raitah dusz tendiwa
Dewa triwen ek strain da dennh dros zanka
Da zort sunh do lidente dros dusz zain sowiloi Fuh host Ë
Ek Rugh da bunder dros dusz setnait..."
1001° Centigrade - The second Magma record was recorded between April 5 and 10, 1971. It represents organic growth from the innovations of "Kobiahn". Already we can see trends developing; there are changes in personnel - there is not a single album where the musicians stay the same one from the next. Here, the musicians are divided into the "force rhythmique" of Klaus Blasquiz, Francois Cahen, Francis Moze and Christian Vander, and the "pelotan de cuirre" of Teddy Lasrey, Jeff "Yochk'o" Seffer, Louis Toesca and Louis Sarkissian. The album cover itself has a full-length poem written in Kobaian and translated into French, providing the first true "Kobaian" dictionary and allowing true Magma fanatics to converse in the fledgling language. This record is not the radical change offered by Kobaiah, but an organic growth where Vander begins to work in more epic and episodic structures.
Riah Sahiltaak - This is the first song where Magma worked in an extended, epic format. Lasting over seventeen minutes, the composition is episodic in nature. Francis Moze' bass and Teddy Lasrey & Jeff (later Yochk'o) Seffer saxes open the song, while Blasquiz intones underneath. Vander signals the first shift, into a jazz cum-operatic section of sing/shout. The third shift segues into a descending chordal section. Points of reference remain un-named opera and jazz. This music is not fully formulated, awaiting the breakthroughs of the next two records. While each "episode" differs musically, this is mostly a rock record; time is still in regular meter, not yet fractured. Technical proficiency is apparent here only to the musically knowledgeable; later records play up Vander's percussive strength far more. Also, this is a very masculine music, not tempered by the use of a "female" chorus. The vocals here, indeed, would not be out of place on an industrial release (a la Ministry) of the early 90s. Thus, "Riah Sahiltaak," while truly interesting music, is in many ways unformed. Still, there are sound blasts and free sections which presage later Magma developments, such as some of the later Offering music. The use of Kobaian is also early; here, Vander refers to himself as "Theius Bingoh," not "Zebehn Strain de Gustaah" of true Kobaian lineage. (It's interesting to note that Vander often used "Theius Bingoh" on records he played as sideman on). Vander's startling falsetto is also used to great effect here. By song end, influences again of Soft Machine and the Mothers of Invention reappear, though without Zappa's humor (which still remains a serious criticism of Vander's music, its unremitting seriousness).
"Iss Lansei Doia" - A shorter song at only eleven minutes, this has a far more standard form and organization. It is built on a twelve note, ascending/descending sequence, around which Fender piano vamps while the horns weave a melody. This may reflect songwriter Teddy Lasrey's jazz background. Still, it is hard to conceive what French rock fans must have felt when they heard this; there were few French rock bands in 1971, and it's hard to say how much avante rock from the U.S. and Great Britain had filtered through. There are parts here that are close to neo-traditional jazz, only 15 years before the Marsalis Bros re-popularized it. Yet, before it gets too pretty or traditional, always Klaus' deep baritone cuts through.
Ki Iahl Oluahk - This is a bit darker in orientation, led by the bass and generating some motific force as it opens to its plain chant. Since this record is so early in the Magma canon, its lyrical message must have been virtually indecipherable to the casual listener, who must have thought "What the hell is this about?" The lyrics and voices therefore become just another part of the mix. There is a nice break in the mix half way through the eight minute song that introduces one Magma motif of notes. Still this is closer to jazz than rock.
On the basis of these first two records, Magma was praised for a (hoped for) breakthrough outside of its regional borders. Would America beckon? A & M records was willing to take that chance, and so Magma's third record would be released in the U.S.
Magma - Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh
"The judgement of humanity for all its cruelty, its dishonesty,
its uselessness, its vulgarity and its lack of humility.
As predicted by the prophet Nebehr Gudahtt,
moved and inspired by The Spirit Of The Universe,
in its infinite wisdom."
Vander related an interesting story to me about how MKD came about. It seems he was working in England in a studio where also Mike Oldfield was working. Vander elected to give up a composition he was working on to seek the "OM" in his center that ultimately became MKD. The music he gave up he says filtered into what Oldfield was concurrently working on and finally became better known as "Tubular Bells." (This story has subsequently been questioned). Vander might have had a film music career (like step-father, like son?).
Nothing that came before could have predicted this terse and sprawling masterpiece. But before I describe the music, there are some notable things on this record. This is listed as the third movement of "Theusz Hamtaahk," with the first two Magma records apparently as the first two movements (which they were not…). A & M provided English explanations of these records, to help orient the uninitiated. Vander also finally uses a female choir, of wife (then) Stella and others. And Janik Top appears with Vander for the first time, the start of a fruitful but stormy musical relationship.
Since neither of the first two records came with any explanation of what they were all about, let's summarize here what has happened. The first record: space is being colonized as the situation on Earth is degenerating. While a few voices speak to the need for planning, no one listens. These few construct a ship to leave Earth for the start of a new society and existence - after a perilous journey, they find their planet, which they name Kobaia. The new society is built, with high harmony and much new technology. Many years later, a crippled spaceship from Earth is received by the Kobaians. The Earthmen convince the Kobaians to return to Earth, meet their ancestors, and teach them the essence of their learning. Some Kobaians agree to go. End of record one. Record two: The landing party arrives to a seemingly friendly reception, with much fanfare and parties. However, as the Kobaians speak to authorities about the need to purify themselves to reach Grace, they are met with silence, disbelief and hostility. They are imprisoned but manage to get off a message to Kobaia, where a rescue is organized. The Kobaians threaten the use of an Ultimate Weapon, the prisoners are released, but Earth has a long memory.
Which brings us to MKD. The third movement of "Theusz Hamtaahk" concerns "The judgement of Humanity for all its cruelty, its dishonesty, its uselessness, its vulgarity and its lack of humility. As predicted by the Prophet Nebehr Gudahtt, moved and inspired by the Spirit of the Universe, in its Infinite Wisdom." The setting is a few years later, with Earth in disarray. The humble man Nebehr Gudahtt tells Earth that to save itself from doom, to be purified and access the Ultimate Existence, they need to sacrifice their life on Earth. Needless to say, he is reviled and hated and becomes Pariah. Earth plots to kill him, but as people mass, a change occurs - Earth consciousness of hate wars with the Spirit of the Universe until a single Earthman hears the call "I have seen the Angel of Light and he smiled at me." Earth now hears of their part of the divine as given them by Kreuhn Kohrmann, the Perfect Man. Earth is led to Utmost Purity, the State of Grace, Cosmic Consciousness, to the Supreme State. Nebehr Gudahtt guides them to eternity, as the Universe takes them on the Celestial March of no return; they die, earning accolades from Angels and Seraphins. They cease to exist, becoming One with the Universe; Grace is achieved. Vander closes this section with the words "When a man dedicates his will to the will of the Supreme being and gives him all he has, the Kreuhn Kohrmann makes of him more than just a man."
It was this particular story line, coupled with the forbidding visages of Blasquiz, Vander and Top and the absolute seriousness of the music (as opposed, say, to Planet Gong and the Pothead Pixies) that led to claims of fascism and even nazism, charges that then seemed simply unsupportable.
But what about the music? Vander expanded the band for this album-length suite, using himself on drums, vocals and organ, Top on bass, Blasquiz handling his customary vocal duties, Jean-Luc Manderlier on keyboards, Rene Garber on bass clarinet, Claude Olmos on guitar, Teddy Lasrey on bass, an unnamed brass section, and for the first time Stella Vander and a female chorus to sing and chant. A lyric sheet is even provided, for all the good it will do the uninitiated.
The suite has seven sections. "Hortz Fur Dehn Stekhen West" opens with an ominous chant over a repetitive beat by bass and piano, which shortly leads to Blasquiz' famous warning "Terrien, Earthmen, you cursed race!" The words of Nebehr Gudahtt warn Earth of its danger, and then the song kicks in with great motivic power, based upon a three-chord ascending and descending pattern. Over this, the female chorus sings with religious fervor.
"Do Weri Wisendo Worai
Do Weri Wisendo Worai
Eleweso, eleweso, eleweso elauri sindai . . ."
Gone are any points of reference, such as the Softs or Zappa. This is truly and strikingly original, and those opening chords still bring shivers as the chant starts. The relentless drone of "Hortz" leads finally into the tranquility of "Ima Suri Dondai." We are even able to follow the roles that Vander and Company play in this Universe; Vander finally adopts the nom de plume of Zebehn Strain De Gustaah, and all other players now have alter-egos (Stella, as an example, is "Taud Zaia").
Technical virtuosity is again downplayed over the precision of the composition. This is entirely composed. Standard musical roles are reversed; the guitar is buried and almost never comes out front or takes a lead. If anything, the bass and percussion drives this music, bass in particular (and Vander has always had world class bassists - oaze, Top, Paganotti, Bertram, to the current Bussonnet, etc.).
"Ima" is a very pretty composition. Vander has always mixed gorgeous songs into his more chaotic and driven music. Vander's falsetto appears here, something that will occur more frequently as his music evolves. It is a weird yodel/shriek, in Kobaian. As "Ima" picks up steam, it leads them to "Kobaia is de Hundin," reflecting where Earth consciousness begins its change. More rhythmic drive. So ends the first side of MDK.
The second side consists of "Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanik," "Nebehr Gudahtt," "Mekanik Kommandoh," and "Kreuhn Kohr Ëmann is de Hundin," chants are important here, as it is chanting that leads Earth to Eternity and Nebehr Gudahtt to his sacrifice. The chants build tremendous power in "Da Zeuhl," repeating over and over relentlessly. This is a Vander signature, to build such power by repetition. It can be as demanding on Vander's musicians as for those who play the music of Phillip Glass. Ecstatic shrieking closes this section, "Nebehr" starts. There is an ethereal quality to this section, concerning the Prophet leading Earth into Grace. More Vander falsetto, and flashes of great percussive brilliance. It builds until it absolutely screams. By "Mekanik," which concerns the Celestial March, there is again traditional structure, with the bass clarinet acting as a low drone, some ecstatic singing from the choir, changes in time and odd time emphasis and even a short Claude Olmos guitar solo. "Kreuhn Kohrmann" is pure soundscape as Earthman dissolves into pure Grace.
Based on the impact of this record, the reputation gained from live shows and his technical prowess, Vander's Magma was compared to Sun Ra's Arkestra and Ornette Coleman's Prime Time as generating intensity. Later albums would show the truth of that; many, many years later, there is still nothing to compare to this one. An absolute masterpiece.
The British rock press began to speak of Magma as a band capable of inducing ecstatic dancing and altered consciousness in the audience. Concerts became marathon four and five hour affairs. This was necessary in order to present the full Kobaian myth, which was growing and expanding. More compositions were written; Christian began working with epic length and structure. MKD might expand 45 minutes; the as yet unrecorded "Zess" might last the same.
"The people of ORK are marching upon us.
The people are made of indescribable
matter which is to the machines what the
machines are to man.
The alarm is sounded... ORK ALARM!
The people of ZEUHL WORTZ are
preparing for battle..."
By 1974, Vander finished the epic Kohntarkosz, a 32-minute song about entering the tome of Ementeht-Re. A heavier and darker intensity entered this music. In its premier recorded version, the organ takes emphasis (played variously by Michel Graillier, Gerard Bikialo, Top and Vander); later versions replace organ with violin (See Magma Live). The emphasis and influence of developments in fusion music appear for the first time, but Vander's fusion includes more than jazz, also incorporating Balkan music, mystic chanting a la' Carl Orff, and even some baser rock elements. Kohntarkosz takes time to build its intensity; one can picture explorers going deeper and deeper into the unexplored tomb. Stella Vander's voice becomes more prominent here, leading wordless moans and shrieks. Vander and Blasquiz intone as usual, and Top more fiercely anchors the bottom. Rocker Brian Godding is along on guitar. As this builds, a sense of anticipation and even terror is created. What is happening? What is to be found in the tomb? That part of the song on side one fades into oblivion (the song is split on two sides, with shorter compositions closing each side). Kohntarkosz extends and builds the compositional elements of MKD to great effect.
As part one fades, "Ork Alarm" starts. This Top composition tells the people of Ork, made of an indestructible matter, attack the people of Zeuhl Wortz. This song is driven largely by Top's cello and bass, under an unearthly chanson of Blasquiz. It signals new directions for Magma, toward a chamber jazz piece that would later influence bands like Art Zoyd, Univers Zero and Shub Niggurath. There is still manic repetition here. Top would explore these initial ideas in greater detail and length in later records, and in particular on the song "De Futura."
Kohntarkosz Part Two then returns, misleadingly, starting rather low-key (and minor key as well). It's not long before things begin to break loose, as Bikialo's organ weaves quasi-oriental motifs and the bass begins to take over. Then the mind numbing "Do-Re-Mi" cuts in, creating a nuclear vamp. What is interesting is how near the song's end, Vander has incorporated a truly twisted gospel call and response, done at high speed and with great fervor. Prior to that, we do get a Top solo (over the comping of the band); he is a fearsome bassist. We are also treated to some wonderful drumming; Vander never emphasizes right on the beat, and it can be quite disorienting. Near song end in all the vocal ecstasy, we get a glance of what the tome must have revealed, and an epiphany occurs (at a three-beat drum passage). A coda suggests something darker to come, via a series of deep vocal drones.
A later re-release of this has a second version of "Kohntarkosz" recorded at nearly the same time. This version plays up the gospel interaction even more, and is in some ways a more interesting version. It also demonstrates how the song evolved.
The closing song "Coltrane Sundia" (Coltrane Rest in Peace) is the first public acknowledgement of Vander's debt to the great jazz musician. It is structured similar to a Coltrane late period ballad, with modal keyboards and a deep sense of peace. This Coltrane influence would take on greater significance in Vander's later work, especially in Offering and the Alien and Vander Trios. Offering in particular became imbued with Coltrane's work, to the point where some viewed Vander as Coltrane reincarnate.
Tristan et Iseault
"Avec la divine approbation du KREUHN KOHRMAHN
Somewhere along different lines, Christian was able to become involved in writing film music. Sometime after the infamous movie shot of a wild and wooly Magma playing before several French priests (one of whom moved in time to the music), Vander hooked up with Yvan Lagrange to write music for Lagrange's adaptation of Wagner's "Tristan et Iseult." This allowed Vander to explore what he now began calling Zeuhl music from an entirely different perspective. The band was stripped down to a small group: Vander (piano, electric piano, drums, chant), Top (bass), Blasquiz (chant, percussion) and Stella Vander (chant). This record was recorded nearly concurrently with Kohntarkosz and shows some intriguing relationships to the epic song of that record. For example, Mala Welekhan, which opens this record, is actually most of the first bars of Kohntarkosz, but as sung by three people and with only marginal support from piano. Vander presents this overall as "Wurdah Itah" (Death of the Earth), or the 2e Movement of Theusz Hamtaak. This first song also mixes in parts of MKD as well, but acoustically. Reworking Kobaian themes became important to Vander, as over the years he tried to create integral versions of Kobaian epics, only to continue to supplant them with yet more versions. "Bradia Da Zimen Legah" also reworks themes from MKD. "Maneh Fur Da Zess" is an extended vamp/chant. "Fur Di H Ëel Kobaia" which starts as a pretty theme, becomes jazzed as the piano leaps in chords at the voices ride the top. The voices weave in and out of unison and counterpoint in sections here. "Blum Tendiwa" is based on a two-chord pattern and is a more peaceful composition (Tendiwa is Kobaian for Love). This is an alien love song. Vander's voice is especially expressive here. "Wolkduhmt Mem De Welehs" closes the first side with ar martial beat. "Wainsaht" opens side with a high, startling falsetto shriek and more of Vander's alien gibberish. Also martial in nature, this song I find most intriguing because after its standard Kobaian forms it veers off into unusual areas: unison chants of ecstasy, phenomenal drumming and at one point, where the drums are truly driving a one chord nuclear vamp with all the ethereal chanting, a true epiphany is reached; then the song simply fractures itself into a characteristically "bouncy" Magma bass and impelling single not piano runs. Impressive. "Wlasik Stehn Kobaia." "Slhritetill Dros" is back to more typical Kobaian territory, of repetition and rhythm. "Cest La Vie Qui Les a Menes Le" is unusual since it is the first recorded Vander song with a French title, not a Kobaian one. The song itself is a segue from the previous song, and is actually seamless with it. "Ek Sun Da Zess" is yet another segue, creating what amounts to a side-length suite. This builds to a more emphatic energy level than its predecessors. "Da 'Zeuhl' Undazir" closes this record by reprising themes from MKD and Kohntarkosz in most unusual ways.
This record is certainly one of the more underrated records in the Magma Canon; but it certainly presages developments in Vander's musical evolution. Concepts first tried here will show up again in the music of Offering. The "less is more" approach works well here. A most intriguing record, in myriad ways.
"The music of Magma is like a mirror where everyone
can see a reflection of who he is."
This record was actually my first introduction to Magma. I remember it well. I saw it in a record bin at MSU in early 1976; I bought it for the sole reason that I was intrigued by a double record with only 5 songs on it, one of which covered two full sides. I took it home, put it on and have been hooked ever since.
The original Kobaian songs had undergone tremendous change as Magma began touring extensively and continued changing personnel. By the time this was recorded the group consisted of stalwarts Vander, Blasquiz and Stella Vander, and had added Jean-Paul Asseline, Bernard Paganotti (yet another astounding bassist), Gabriel Federow (who's guitar parts were essentially edited off the tape masters accidentally) and the then unknown violinist Didier Lockwood. The change of Lockwood for a second keyboard completely changed the texture of Vander's music. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Kohntark," the double sided epic that opens the record. This version, which features Lockwood prominently rather than the cheesy organ of the version on the record "Kohntarkosz," is infinitely darker than the original. And this version shows a much heavier fusion influence; Vander was by now very interested in the music of Tony Williams, John McLaughlin and Chick Corea as well as Coltrane. Further, there may be no better recorded version of Vander's percussive brilliance than the later stages of this song. The entire first side, after its opening incantations, builds a minor key, Eastern-oriented motif based on a 3-chord pattern. There is a particularly moving segment where Lockwood draws a single note out at great length over the chanting and a sense of dramatic release is achieved. Everywhere is a sense of deep mystery. As the second opens in peaceful fashion, it doesn't last long. Within short order a pulse is created and the music truly builds to frightening proportions. Both bass and drums thunder over Blasquiz' rumblings. Paganotti virtually blows his bass up when this takes off, breaking off all sorts of weird accents at the low, low end of the bass while Lockwood screams over the top in a dazzling display of ragged dexterity. Vander's meters shift all over the place and he never quite measures the beat dead one; his cymbalic work astounds. The gospel parts of the original version are replaced here by an extremely high-intensity interplay of bass, drums and violin; the tension becomes nearly unbearable. By end this must be running at around 150 BPM as all madness breaks loose and it becomes hard to follow the logic of the various component pieces. The song ends with a huge bass war before a coda occurs to indicate that all may still be well with the world. In the background, we can hear Blasquiz wearily intoning "Magma, ho ho ho" as the crowd goes nuts.
"Kobah," which opens side 3, is essentially standard jazzy rock made more exciting by Lockwood's oriental sounding violin. And still there is intensity. "Lihns" may be the most beautiful Vander ever wrote, a love song that absolutely enchants. There is a chiming and magical quality to this song, which meshes well with Vander's muscular yet expressive vocals. "Hhai" became a Magma standard during its mid-period. Here it's presented in a shorter (8 min 4 sec) version, with an opening incantation by Vander over which he builds the beat. While this version runs nicely, later versions expand the song, both in terms of time (to greater than 16 min) and vision. In passing I should note that this too was written as a love song.
"Mekanik Zain," which runs just less than 20 minutes, was a rarely played song. It is an extension and adaptation of the last movements of MDK. Here, it opens as a fade-in, likely from the earlier movements of MDK. Paganotti gets a fractured bass solo as noise from percussion and altered piano fills the background. The song ultimately comes back to a recognizable center by working into the end of MDK, but at much greater musical velocity. More astonishing drumming supports the band; there is an extended solo by Lockwood, and then voices cut in to bring this to a resounding close.
The album is marked by outstanding writing, technical virtuosity and great intensity. The rigors of playing 3 and 4 hour concerts night after night was surely taking its toll. And while the band was developing a legion of true fanatics in France (where they might stay at fan's houses while travelling), they were less successful in Britain and even less so in the U.S.A. Was some rethinking necessary?
"... sous la haute bienveillance du Kreun Kohrmann et avec l'approbation d'Uniweria Zekt"
Before any new record could come out, the French Tapioca label released "Inedits," which was essentially out-takes from a variety of Magma live shows, and which featured twenty-four different musicians on its six tracks. Outside of the sing "Sowiloi-KMX-BXII (Opus 3)" (Vander must have taken lessons from Anthony Braxton), most of these songs were virtually never played in concert. However, Magma has more loyal tapers than the Grateful Dead (virtually everything Vander has ever played has been taped and exchanged among his fans, including his family Christmas get-together and even rehearsals); and this record is apparently in that vein. Sound recording is poor, the bass is flat, and the singing sounds like it was recorded in a garbage can. Still, the strength of music comes through. "Sowiloi," at 13 minutes the largest cut, is built on a typical Magma three cord pattern, with opening chanting and a rattling bass lead by Janik Top. The use of the opus number was no ploy, but an indication of the nature of the song (and the following "KMX-BXII-Opus 7) and how it fit into the overall Kobaian Canon. The brunt of the song is in the interplay of drums with bass to create a rhythmic ecstasy. Live, this must have been earthshaking. The KMX-B" version is a reprise of the same song, about half as long and twice as violent. Top, a well-known French session bassist, did his best work with Vander, in part created by a tremendous tension between the two.
Side two opens with "Om Zanka" which is simply a pretty song with an interesting Didier Lockwood violin part. This song comes from around the time of "Magma Live." This is really medium tempo jazz rock. "Gamma" uses rock-piano to great effect, with Claude Olmos ripping off squeals on guitar. This is obviously from much earlier in Magma's life; it has a much more primitive feel to it. "Terrien Se Je T'ai Convoque" sounds like a stilted Mothers of Invention song at times, as sheer sound and noise at other times. It's an interesting sound experiment. "Gamma Anteria" is abstracted from a longer composition (one can tell from the fade-in and fade-out) and features more escalating tension in a rather conventional framework.
Overall this record was stop-gap. Changes were coming.
"This voyage is a magical and enchanting one- of course, this is on the condition that one really wishes to live this adventure, to persevere in it and let it carry one away. Behind the apparent harshness of this music, all is silence."
It may have been simple economic reality that altered Magma's direction. Starting out with a distinct jazz background and moving into a more fusion-oriented approach had gained critical acclaim, but only modest solos. "Udu Wudu" moved, with one significant exception, to a more rock-oriented approach. Starting with the song "Udu Wudu" which can be only described as a sprightly but mutant up-tempo rock number, the entire first side has a more popish sound. Consisting of five short songs, a number of styles are tried. "Udu Wudu" starts with a blast of horns over a metronome beat and runs along at a rapid and happy clip. "Weidorje" is darker, and features the first recorded appearance of Patrick Gauthier (who also worked with Richard Pinhas in Heldon, and who brought that band's industrial sabotage to Magma). Paganotti, who played bass here, soon left to form his own band known by this song's name. "Troller Tanz (Ghost Dance) is only Vander and Top, who uses the fret cello here. The song is successful in conjuring images of ghosts cavorting in the woods, with its bouncy bass lines and Vander's falsetto and voice-overs, "Soleil D'Ork (Ork Sun)" is subtitled (in English translation) as the Ritual Dance of the people of Ork as dedicated to their sun. Here, Top is vocalist, with Vander and Alain Hatot on flutes. In all honesty, this sounds like the Ewok's celebration song at the end of Return of the Jedi; it makes one wonder if George Lucas is a Magma fan. Hear it to believe it. "Zombies (Ghost Dance)" is the most interesting song on this side, now a concert stalwart, another Vander and Top feature (with Klaus Blasquiz listed as "growl" in the credits). The drumming here excels over a motorized riff on Top's fret cello. There is good reason to consider Vander on par with percussionists such as Yamashta and Cobham. The dissolve here has some manic cymbalic leads.
However, far be it from Magma to leave its fan with a series of pop ditties (if such mutant tunes could ever be considered pop at all). Side two consists entirely of what many people consider the single greatest Magma song "De Futura." It is described as follows:
"The people of Ork surround us, but we can't see them. These people are a type of being whose relation to machines is like that which machines have to us. Only a voyage through time enables us to see these beings. De Futura is the story of this voyage through time, a voyage which shows us how to stop the illusory movement of passing time which prevents us from seeing. This voyage is a magical and enchanting one - of course, this is on the condition that one really wished to live this adventure, to persevere in it and to let it carry one away. Behind the apparent harshness of this music, all is silence."
And it is harsh and intense, starting with a repeating bass line, martial drums and growls from Klaus. This is repeated for several minutes, over and over again until a short piano break signals a change in direction. Then Top uses his O.R.S. bass synthesizer to lay a new pattern down, which is again repeated to lay a new pattern down, which is again repeated over and over, but with increasing tempo until this song is going ferociously at light speed; Vander is all over the damn place on drums and it is all shrieking. This not at all pretty; it is angry and ugly and tense, but truly furious. More tension is created as Top overlays a siren-like sixth line. Truly this sounds more like a nightmare, unrelenting, than it does enchanting. Faster and faster it goes until you can feel Vander, Top and Blasquiz working. This version reaches horrific levels, in concert, it was absolutely draining in its intensity. When it seems they cannot push any more, Vander breaks loose in an awesome technical display; only then does he let it dissolve into its final coda, a phase-shifted bass and drums duo that fades into otherworldly echoed cymbal crashes. Monumental!
It would have been foolhardy to try to follow the fury of "Udu Wudu's De Futura, so Vander released the more song-oriented "Attahk." This album features a cover by artist H. R. Giger (who led to so much trouble for the Dead Kennedy's "Frankenchrist" record with his "Penis Landscape" cover) that is truly repulsive. This the album that, while commenting that Magma was band worthy of further study, critic Robert Christgau said made him laugh out loud! Must be Vander's falsetto along with his seriousness. The record opens with "The Last Seven Minutes (1970-71 phase I)," which bears uncanny resemblance to "Udu Wudu" on that album. An up-tempo number with double pounding bass (Vander started using two basses here, as he did for several years, perhaps taking a cue from Coltrane's use of two bassists), this is again more rock-oriented. "Spiritual (Negro song)" conjures pictures of a black gospel church reunion on the planet Mars in the year 2566. One can see the choir singing and shouting in joy (here, Stella Vander & Liza Deluxe) while Reverend Vander exhorts the faithful with his testifying. Strange but appealing, and an indication of Vander's growing love for the music of Otis Redding. "Rinde (Eastern Song)" features Magma over an Eastern/Arabic Motif that evolves into a driving song, "Lirik Nekronomicus Kanht (in which our heroes Ourgon and Gorgo meet)"; this features a dual bass attack, one in high treble register, the other laying down the beat. Rene Garber, Stundehr or 1st Lieutenant, leads the ladies in the speech/song. This is truly subversive pop; the elements disparate but all walking together: the basses, chant, drums, more falsetto. "Maahnt," which opens side 2, is subtitled "The wizards fight versus the devil"; it continues the driving pop/rock that is characteristic of this period Magma. It starts with a siren attack and a blast of horns (trumpet and trombone), then features a bass ostinato and characteristic Blasquiz growls of stentorian depths; also, modified vocals (which probably led to Christgau's laughing). One can hear the demons appear here before being vanquished by the wizard in a propulsive coda to this song. "Dondai (to an eternal love)" is a song that provides an early glimpse of the direction Vander would take with Offering. More acoustic, featuring piano, drums and flute, the song is a slow paced love song. There are certainly echoes of the spiritual side of John Coltrane in some of the movements here. This a more peaceful song, powerful in a very subtle way, and in retrospect a key to the future for Magma. "Nono (1978, Phase I)" closes this record with another bass ostinato and the vocalists chanting the title over and over again. There is more Kobaian mythology here, but it must have been lost on American listeners not familiar with the Canon. All this was beautiful, rhythmically propulsive music that defied all the conventional wisdom for rock. Critics didn't know what to make of the band or even how to classify it: fusion? Progressive? Jazz-rock? The Rolling Stone record called it progressive European rock in the extreme, which seems apt. But Vander began to feel the need for change yet again.
Retrospective Volume 1and Volume 2
Retrospective Volume 3
"Merci, John Coltrane, de m'avoir fait ressentir toutes les choses. Tu m'as tout donne', l'amour, la foi, la foile, l'energie, l'eternite'. Chaque note de cette musique je te l'offre simplement de tout mon couer et de tout mon ame. A l'infini des temps et de la matiere palpable et impalpable... et de neant"
The endless touring and change of personnel began taking its toll, and Christian desired to move his band in new directions opened by "Udu Wudu" and "Attahk." In 1980, to do so he constituted a series of retrospective concerts that would play "integral' versions of past Magma songs, essentially closing the book on them for that period. And he gathered around him past and present Magma musicians, over 20 of them, to help him close the era. Selections from those concerts were released as the "Retrospective" series. Volume 1 and 2 is a double record set, while Volume 3 is a single. There are only two compositions on Vols. 1 & 2, both 40 plus minutes: Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh and Theusz Hamtaahk." Each covers one full record. The version of MDK presented here benefits from a full choir of female voices and Klaus (Stella Vander, Liza Deluxe, Claire Laborde, and Maria Popkiewicz) plus an extended band (which at times uses 3 keyboardists). Starting with a new invocation, Blasquiz then slowly introduces the song by name to wild cheers; I find this moment simply chilling, such drama! There is then a supercharged run-through the first several movements, though some vocal pyrotechnics occur where the voices work in unison and then counterpoint. One can see the ladies decked out in their white and silver futuristic angel costumes (Vander had also begun creating spectacle and drama with lightshows, lighting and striking costume changes a la' early Genesis - you should see the bug-eyed costumes used on the monumental but as yet still unrecorded "Zess"). There is a nice fade at end side one that opens into a startling bass solo by Bernard Paganotti, that even quotes "De Futura" before crashing into pure sound. (Top and Vander were still at odds when these concerts occurred). Paganotti is a truly astounding bassist, who uses a Jacobazzi 5 string bass set real low. Here he phase-shifts the bass over panned synth sounds to create a feeling of terror and danger. This section alters the whole feel and affect of the song. Then, Paganotti rips off high speed single notes to shift the song back to the composition while Vander doubles the beat underneath; over the top, Didier Lockwood lays out long lines on his electric violin. They keep this inhuman pace up well past human capability. Then the final movement occurs, delivered again at superhuman speed and ending in a cataclysmic choral ecstasy. Truly the integral version!
Vander pulled out all the stops for sides 3 & 4's "Theusz Hamtaahk." Using what might be called the Magma Big Band Orkestra, Vander pulls in 6 vocalists, violin, three guitarists, 5 keyboardists and 3 bassists (the chiming and melodic Francis Moze, the elegant and contrapuntal Dominique Bertram and the ferocious and thundering Paganotti). This song actually forms the first movement of the series of the same name. After a little bit of opening thunder settles into its opening section, a hypnotic two-chord vamp. This unfolds slowly over the first side. Echoes of French opera occur. The song shifts to a martial beat with chimes lacing over a pulse laid down by all the instruments. The effect is unsettling; it is impossible to make out any specific instrument save drums and some bass eruptions. This is pushed to infinity as a chant builds over the pulse. The sound is immense, rattling your very soul. The effect is otherworldly and unsettling. Nearly 17 minutes are spent building the tension and intensity; if the intense picture of the record is a guide, this must have totaled the audience - that interior album picture shows the concert after the concert; people are draped everywhere, over chairs, balconies, even on the floor). Finally, this segues into a new section (on side 2 by now) of even greater intensity where the vocalists are singing unison Kobaian lines. Still, the pulse never wavers. The tension ends in a convulsion of keyboards, leading suitelike into a pleasing unison falsetto/synth section. The closing sections sound like nothing so much as a mutated Frank Zappa/Soft Machine hybrid filtered through Vander's rhythmic sensibility. It collapses into sirens and single extended tones, suggesting that all is neither well or concluded. This is so typical of vander's work, to never fully rlease tension at the end of a composition, and to move into ritual instead.
Volume 3 was recorded at a later time during the same series of concerts and features a slightly "different band make-up (notably the absence of Klaus Blasquiz who left after a falling-out with Vander). Still, 13 musicians appear on the three songs on the record. All of side one is taken up with "Retrovision (Je Suis Revenu de L'univers)." Now called by its proper name "Attahk," it starts with a definite funk bass intro and a series of James Brownish "okay, okays" from Rene Garber, then moves into almost an R & B groove. Vander was by now highly influenced, in his own idiosyncratic way, by Otis Redding, and this section shows it. The audience must have been shocked to Magma doing James Brown vamps, even if at their usual hyperspeed pace. After the vocalists trade choruses, the song moves into a rockish 4/4 (rather than the usual odd time signatures Vander always favors). After yet another shift from R & B, the audience is treated to a lengthy guitar solo from Jean-Luc Chevallier (unusual in a Magma song) that screams by its end. The voices return only to lead the song into an abridged and intense reprise from "De Futura" with two basses driving the song. As the tempo rises and the voices chant yet again, they then drop to a whisper over Christian's solo on voice. Stella Vander then screams out some R & B vocals, showing new strengths in her singing. This alternates with the voice of Rene Garber, Stundehr. The song ends in an upbeat, gospelish finish.
The revision of "Hhai" that opens side 2 is termed the "version integral," and it is a far different version than the one that appears on "Magma Live." This opens with a gorgeous invocation by Christian where he modulates his voice between beauty and shrill terror. By the time he brings the band in, this song is really moving at rapid clip. When the band does come in, Didier Lockwood and Benoit Widemann trade fours at a furious fusion clip. Each challenges the other to greater intensity. Under it all is absolutely phenomenal drumming. This version of the song is over twice as long as the version on "Live" and it benefits from the expanded treatment. It's simply done better here. A beautiful ending occurs with heavenly female voices leading the song into eternity.
The short but quite beautiful "La Dowotsin" closes the concert. Featuring only Vander on voice and piano, three female vocalists and the bass of Bernard Paganotti, the song has a chiming and mystical air to it. Vander's falsetto is especially evocative, and his vocals are expressive in the extreme. The vocalists create an otherworldly atmosphere by singing pure sounds, no words. This is a love song from the far reaches of outer space. Little played in concert, it is simply gorgeous. A Grand close to a Magma era.
Mythes et Legendes
This record was basically a "greatest hits" holding pattern. It has two interesting features: songs are introduced by various band members, who then describe (in French or Kobaian) what is going on; and the record also has one of the few Magma singles, the never released on album "Klaus Kombalad." Selections come from "Kobaiah," "1001° Centrigrade," "MDK," "Wurdah Itah" (also known as "Tristan et Iseault), "Theusz Hamtaahk" (from the "Retrospective," but partially featuring an unreleased album portion, not the live recording). These selections form an interesting thematic whole, with the narration holding it together. One can also view this as the beginning of the end of the first real iteration of Magma; only one more Magma record would be released after this for a long time, with some truly (for Magma) radical changes. This seems almost an epitaph in retrospect, even though Vander indicated at the time that more records in the "Mythes et Legendes" series might come in the future. None has yet.
But let us talk of "Klaus Kombalad." Magma released very few singles, since nearly everything they recorded was epic in length and stature. Though selections from "MDK" and "Kohntarkosz" were released as singles in abbreviated form, there were only two songs specifically released as singles, "Klaus Kombalad" and "Mekanik Machine." "Klaus Kombalad" is subversive pop in the extreme. Starting with a minor key shimmering electric piano riff, and adding a burbling bass underneath, Vander leads the vocalists in unison lines with the melody. But, there are no words; the vocalists act as yet another instrument singing pure notes. As is so typically Magmatic, the song builds intensity as more vocalists and horns are added to the mix. This was a single? I should note that the other single "Mekanik Machine" also followed no conventions for a single. As joyous as "Klaus" is, "Mekanik Machine" is inhumanly savage. Over a rumbling subterranean bass (fuzzed to the max and acting as a lead instrument), Klaus scream/chants his vocals as the song becomes terrifyingly intense. At times, this seems to echo some of the work of Heldon, but as a single? No capitulation to popular culture!
"To John Coltrane
A Love Supreme"
"Merci" is the first serious fracture in the Kobaian universe. It was unlike any other Magma record. It sound tentative, melancholy. It featured only one song, "Otis," that became anything near a staple. By the time "Merci" came out, Magma was nearly 15 years old; Vander had gone through innumerable personnel changes, had toured extensively and yet remained only a cult hero even in his native France. And the band core members were aging, which perhaps explains why this record is really about death . . . "Death is not an ending. It can bring misery, joy or serenity. Here are six simple ways of feeling it. Six tales of death. To be continued . . ."
Melancholy and sadness imbues this record. The songs lack the typical Kobaian intensity and rhythmic drive, replacing it with peace and repose. Even the cover seems to reflect this inner peace. One side features two hands, one holding stalks of wheat, the other dripping blood. The other cover features a quiet forest scene, with light filtering through the leaves to create a luminescent peace.
The songs on this record no longer hew to Kobaian mythos. Two songs feature English lyrics for the first time, one has French lyrics and three use Kobaian lyrics. To Vander, this remained still Kobaian, but many fans wondered what was happening. "I Must Return" is a dirge-like song with six vocalists, four horns, bass, drums and synths. For the first time, Vander did not play drums on a Magma song, choosing instead to focus on piano and vocals; this presages his work in Offering. Still, this song does go into the mystic. "Eliphas Levi" is even more bare-bones; two pianos, four vocalists, flute and percussion. It mixes French and Kobaian lyrics and seems quite similar in its opening to the ballads of late period John Coltrane. Actually, to the point of recreating note for note the piano solo by McCoy Tyner to Coltrane's first version of "My Favorite Things." This seems a very spiritual song, as though Vander were possessed by the gentle spirit of John Coltrane. There is a chiming quality to the music, which is echoed in the repetition of the words "Carillonne, Carillonne" throughout the song. Again, rather than building intensity, this song builds peace. While this song never builds to the intensity of some of Coltrane's volcanic later work, there are similarities in design to compositions such as "Kulu Se Mama." This Coltrane "fixation" would become far more apparent in Vander's work in Offering. If "Eliphas Levi" was bare-bones, "The Night We Died" is absolutely skeletal; four vocalists and piano. This is simply a short song of great beauty. Funereal in pace, the verses are chanted by the chorus. An ineffable sadness is felt.
If the songs on the first side create a feeling of sadness and blues, those on the second side create joy. "Call from the Dark (Ooh Ooh Baby)" features lead vocals from Stella Vander and Guy Khalifa. Stella in particular shines here, and has a truly beautiful voice. This has English lyrics and is a love song. Christian plays here on synths and Linn Drums. This song is mildly funky in nature. Lyrics were surprisingly written by "outsiders," Ricky and Julie Dassin (Vander's command of English is poor). And if this song is mildly funky, the next song, "Do the Music" must have stupefied longtime Magma fans.
This song overtly uses the shouts, grunts and call and response of James Brown. For those who had never heard Magma, the opening must have sounded like the Munchkins sing James Brown, with alien grunts and "Feel its" shouted out. One of the players on this song, Simon Goubert, would be instrumental in forming Offering. American critics would have reviled this; fans were greatly confused. Only the closing song, "Otis" (for Otis Redding) became a concert staple and crowd favorite, since it did build intensity and featured the sight of Vander singing in epileptic convulsions while Stella and Liza Deluxe rocked in the background in their white angel-wing costumes. In this version, free-jazz saxist and French expatriate Robin Kenyatta appears; Kenyatta was highly influenced by John Coltrane. The song features a metronomic beat in its first part, with placid French lyrics. This builds for several minutes by the simple act of repetition. The song shifts to its second part with Vander pushing his vocals to ecstatic levels over the ladies chorus, and then the horns cut in and the ladies start to push it too until an epiphany is reached. A wonderful song.
This record was the last of the Magma records for many years. The year was 1984; Vander no longer wanted to play drums, to focus instead on piano and vocals. He was now more overtly after the spirit of Coltrane and felt that the electric Magma did not offer the needed vehicle for the new music he wanted. Magma was for all intents and purposes disbanded; Offering was in the works.
Offering - Parts 1 and 2
"To be continued..."
By 1984, Vander had put together the first incarnation of Offering. While it did contain some usual Magma stalwarts such as Stella Vander and Guy Khalifa, it also added new younger musicians such as Pierre Marcour and Simon Goubert. As always, the personnel in Offering would shift, ranging from six people to thirteen and more in later versions. The expansion in personnel allowed the music to develop in interesting warp; rhythm was important, and the combination of 3 drummers, 2 bassists, 3 keyboards, 4 vocalists, made for increasing rhythmic density and diversity.
The first Offering record was recorded in 1984. It starts with "Offering Part One," which invokes the spirit of John Coltrane in its opening of flutes, piano and drums. Over this wafts the ethereal voice of Stella Vander (who took on a more & more primary vocal role in Offering, co-lead vocalist with Christian). There is still a Kobaian echo here in the wordless gibberish she sings, and in the lead vocals Christian intones as the rhythmic cuts in. In many ways "Earth" has similarities to "MDK" in the way it evolves. This uses a single chord to build a huge and mysterious depth. Christian scats over it, while letting the other musicians build a framework around the rhythm. This is, as opposed to Magma, a far more acoustic music, though complex and intense. Here, Vander filters, interprets and advances some of the rhythmic and harmonic strategies of John Coltrane; indeed, no one has done so, better, in my estimation. In Offering, Vander played less drums, choosing to focus on vocals and piano. This was a loss, since his rhythmic sensibility would have pushed this music even farther.
The centerpiece of this double record is the side-long eighteen-minute "Joia," a Kobaian word that roughly translates as "deep respect." Here, Christian plays drums, vocals, piano, bells, sand, water and Holy Ghost. "Joia" starts with a segue from "Earth," and then features Christian singing over a two-chord progression. As is so often the case in any Vander composition, this is pushed and permuted, and the glossolalia here works to great effect. The listener is thus shocked when the English "I give my love to God" appears of the mix. Then, more glossolalia and that is basically it for 18 minutes.
However, a lot is happening under the surface of this. The lead harmonic line is from the vocals; all else is rhythm. Vander has never been so evocative in his vocals as here. More English appears at the end. Quite striking. There is some motivic movement near end as Vander speeds the vocals up a bit, to great effect.
"Cest Pour Nous" leads suitelike from "Joia" to open side 3. Featuring Stella on lead vocals, this is an up-tempo, more conventional number, replete with horns and metronomic beat. In style, it seems similar to "Udu Wudu," but the unison vocal lines truly impress; these folks aren't singing words, just sounds and at quite a rapid clip. Christian and Stella trade vocal lines throughout. "Love in the Darkness" is a darker song, more in the Magma vein. As usual, there is little harmonic movement but great rhythmic motion. This song originally appeared on "Merci," but this version, more stripped down than on even that album, is infinitely darker, more mysterious and intense, more heartfelt.
The songs on the first three sides ranged from a shortest of 8 minutes to the full 18 minute "Joia." The songs on side 4 range from 2 and a half minutes to just less than 8 minutes. "Tilim M'Dohm" is a pleasant song featuring Stella, creating a beautiful vocal texture. This follows fairly traditional structure. "Mazur Kujiawiak Oberek" is a surprising solo piano interpretation by Guy Khalifa of the "Tryptique" by composer Milosz Magin. It is stunningly rendered, and surprising to find an outside composer on a Vander record. It has a dancing quality in its opening section, followed by a stormier middle section that reaches resolution by end. This can't be an easy composition to play, and it shows off Khalifa's skill nicely (he also plays flute and sing backing vocals). "Solitude" is aptly named, a paean to loneliness that offers hope of salvation, perhaps through the healing music of John Coltrane, as Vander sings "Oh Coltrane, I can wait for you." As this fades, the record appears over, but a quiet cough signals the intro to "Uguma Ma Mellimeh Gingeh," a quiet, somber but uplifting vocal close to a wonderful suite of songs.
Vander took Offering on the road, touring extensively and re-working these songs ad infinitum. He also added two songs to the repertoire, "Cosmos" (by Coltrane) and the stunning "Another Day," which would not be recorded for several years. It would be over 4 years before "Offering Parts 3-4" would come out, due in part to technical problems and in part to perfectionistic tendencies. In the time between the Magma universe would grow further. Vander would release a very strange solo record, "To Love," featuring himself on piano and vocals only. He would also return to his jazz roots with his work in the Alien Trio and Christian Vander Trio, releasing the record "Jour Apres Jour." These records simply don't figure in the Magma Canon. "To Love" was the result of the death of Vander's close friend Jean-Paul Fenneteau at age 32. This must have devastated Vander, since the record features seven songs about death, most dirge-like and somber, but somehow real. The standout song here is "Love Is," a 14-minute eulogy, which even manages to incorporate a section of Pharoah Sanders "Hum Allah." Only "XMC" at the end varies, in having a spoken section over a "blues" jazzlike backing. Mysterioso.
"Jour Apres Jour" is a return to straight trio jazz, reflecting Vander's days at Studio Riverbop in Paris, where the music of Coltrane reigned supreme. The trio consisted here of Vander on drums (finally, again!), Phillipe Dardelle on bass, and Emmanuel Borghi on piano. The four compositions are straight ahead, supercharged jazz. Songs include Vander's "Day after Day," Michel Graillier's (an old Magma hand and a classic jazzer) "Dear Mac," "Chim Chim Cheree" and Coltrane's own "Like Sonny." The songs are muscular and Vander hasn't shown such drum fire in years. It's good to hear it again.
I should note that these two records were released on Vander's own Seventh Records. He now was able to gain a measure of control over his record distribution, and began working to re-release many of the older Magma material, with some major additions. "Magma Live" featured 12 additional minutes of music; "MDK" was released with two versions of the composition, including one with no vocals, "Kohntarkosz" was released with two versions of the particular song; the newer even more intense if such can be imagined. These new versions gave important creative insight into Vander's musical evolution and thought processes; they also explain why no new Magma or Offering came for several years.
Offering Parts 3-4
It was several years before Vander released the Ë follow-up to the first Offering record. This record has only 3 songs on it, "Ehn Deiss," Offering, Part 2" and the sprawling forty-five minute mass of "Another Day." The first two songs (which are actually the last two on the disc) can be easily discussed and perhaps even dismissed. "Ehn Deiss" had been used for years as a concert encore; it's slow dirge sung by the increasingly jazzy Stella Vander (whose own solo album "D'Epreves D'Amour" was a surprising set of jazz standards), while "Offering, Part 2" is a reprise of the opening song on the first Offering record.
And then there is Coltrane ascendant, Vander's purest Coltrane vision, "Another Day." The version on the record clocks in at a sprightly 45 minutes. In concert it might range from an abridged 13 minute version to an ungodly sixty minutes plus. The song encapsulates the history of energy jazz Coltrane. It is high powered from the get go, a supercharged scream of pure joy. Its sections range from operatic solo voice from Christian or Stella, to the two of them trading vocal fours and unison lines, to free sections, to start and stop rhythms. Epiphany after Epiphany occurs. Vander is alternately possessed by and exorcised from Coltrane's spirit.
With a ripple of piano chords and bells, the song starts in peaceful repose. Stella invokes the muse with her gorgeous voice, and then it's off we go. The other voices come in after a chord crash and we move into a section that reminds one of the vocal work used by McCoy Tyner. Christian comes in on lead voice behind the modal piano work. He and Stella trade vocal lines in an increasingly heartfelt manner until they return to the chorus. Then they absolutely fracture the vocals, singing just out of synch until they bring it back yet again to a propulsive first climax of echoed singing. The vocal work here reminds one of the technical exchanges between the best of the fusion bands, i.e.: McLaughlin and Cobham, Corea and Clarke. The two feed off each so closely it seems telepathic. Once this first section concludes, Vander starts the second by intoning the few words to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." This allows him to shift into pure vocal improvisation in his inimitable falsetto. Here, his vocal work echoes the free energy of Coltrane's best sax work; the energy simply continues to build until Vander is literally shrieking. At times, he echoes the work of Coltrane's "Om" to stunning effect. A short, Elvin Jonesish drum solo signals yet another shift, into another vocal solo, though a bit more structured and not in falsetto and which again invokes "A Love Supreme." Then yet another return to the chorus, leading to a free-wheeling, pounding piano solo that's more Cecil Taylorish than McCoy Tynerish. Then comes a moment of sheer beauty; Vander segues into "Upper and Lower Egypt" by Pharoah Sanders, the part with the wonderful vocals. From these, he and Stella then push the vocals to a beautiful stop/start conclusion. The way the vocals intertwine with each other and the instruments is breathtaking, their control is inhuman, their timing impeccable. When they both stutter stop, it'll snap your head back. Before the coda, at song end, everything is happening at once; piano chords pound, vocals are all over the place, the cymbals create pure sound and only the bass provides a firm foundation. Coltrane has been freed to ascend to Heaven.
By the time "Another Day" was released on record, it had been played for years in concert, and Vander was losing interest in it. He began work on a new epic composition "The Swans & The Crows", only sections of which have been completed. This is a vocal song with wonderful cymbalic work. It's full version was later released on CD, but that is for the next part of the story. In 1992, even newer, unnamed vocal songs entered the Offering repertoire, but these were met with confusion by longtime Magma stalwarts. Offering concerts now featured full sections of Stella Vander's solo work, which was definitely not in the Magma vein. Toward the end of 1992, Vander announced the end of Offering. Instead, he would concentrate on a new band, Voix de Magma. New records were rumored: Mythes et Legends II, the Magma (or Voix de Magma) "Cosmos Affieh", a new Vander Trio record. There were rumors of reconciliation with both Klaus Blasquiz and, strikingly with Janik Top. The story does not end…
Vander's most influential and unsettling work was with Magma. This band challenged all rock conventions with its odd vocals, with its stress on rhythm rather than harmony, with its technical virtuosity and its conviction. That it was French was even more astounding. The band is still playing today, and I will later provide the history of the years to come…