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Magma

+ {Christian Vander} + {Offering}

The brainchild of Frenchman Christian Vander, a classically-trained drummer on one heavyweight, interstellar trip, Paris-based MAGMA have been at the core of continental prog-rock since their volcanic eruption in 1969. Never quite fitting into popular music the way their kraut-rock rivals KRAFTWERK, CAN and TANGERINE DREAM had (especially in the 70s), MAGMA’s mythology-manicured mantras were imaginative and innovative enough to interest a young JOHN LYDON (of the Pistols and PiL). Just ask Steve Davis, six-times world snooker champion, who put his money where his mouth was to finance “comeback” concerts in London during the late 80s – mmm… very interesting.
The son of a jazz pianist, Vander was vastly influenced by the legendary jazz saxophonist JOHN COLTRANE, while he also cited other greats such as Stravinsky, Stockhausen and jazz giant, ORNETTE COLEMAN; Carl Orff’s choral magnum opus `Carmina Burana’ would also play a massive part in his collective repertoire.
Christian’s ambitions were raised one evening when he had a vision, a vision that the Earth’s entwined spiritual and ecological future was in jeopardy, and thus he formed his music group to re-establish its fragmented axis – or something on these lines. Constructing an ensemble that included singer Klaus Blasquiz, bassist Francis Moze, guitarist/flautist Claude Engel, pianist Francois Cahen and a horn/wind section of Teddy Lasry, Richard Raux and Alain “Paco” Charlery, his story-led double album MAGMA {*7} surfaced in 1970. Over 80 enterprising minutes that told of people vacating a doomed Earth in search of the mysterious planet – the selfsame opening track `Kobaia’. Indeed, a language (Zeuhl) was invented by Christian: “just simply because French wasn’t enough”. Exploring space themes through jazz-rock as on a voyage to their promised planet/land, tracks that resonate with the mind were `Sohia’, `Thaud Zaia’ and the unedited finale `Muh’ (released as a B-side single to `Kobaia’).
Carrying the theme, if not players Raux, Charlery and Engel (their seats taken by Jeff Seffer and Louis Toesca), single-set sophomore instalment 1.001 DEGREES CENTIGRADE (1971) {*7} chronicled the inhabitants reunification with planet Earth. Worth checking out is the side-long `Riah Sahiltaahk’.
It was basically the same line-up (with a few exceptions; for one the trumpet of Tito Puentes) that released UNIVERIA ZEKT (1972) {*5}, an album that cast a shadow over the future of MAGMA. It was certainly a break from the demanding Kobaian theme, which left Seffer and Cahen dissatisfied enough to form their own Zao combo; Toesca and GONG-bound Moze bailed out also.
The idea to expand MAGMA through adding his wife Stella Vander (vocals), Claude Olmos (guitar), Benoit Widemann and Jean-Luc Manderlier (keyboards), Jannick Top (bass) and Rene Garber (bass clarinet/vocals) – backing vocalists: Muriel Streisfield, Doris Reinhardt, Evelyne Razymovski and Michele Saulnier – a projected 9-album concept (“Thesuk Hamtaakk”) was cut to a trilogy when A&M Records finally issued a version of third sci-fi episode MEKANIK DESTRUCTIW KOMMANDOH (1973) {*8}.
As important as any classical work of any century, the album’s teutonic prog/jazz-rock at first grates on the ear, repetitive battles of sprawling musicianship over orgies of operatic singing/choral combustions, MDK takes time to adjust with mind, body and soul. Capturing the essence of the aforementioned “Carmina Burana”, MAGMA’s masterpiece was a long journey through space and time, and only the brave should take their shaky seat on board.
1974’s CHRISTIAN VANDER-billed WURDAH ITAH {*6} – the re-recorded soundtrack to Yves Lagrange’s `Tristan et Iseult’ 1972 movie – was as much a MAGMA set as any other, boasting the fact that Stella, Klaus and Jannick all featured; Vander switched to acoustic piano to lighten the segued 38 minutes of chamber-rock.
The addition of Welsh-born guitarist Brian Godding (ex-BLOSSOM TOES) and keyboard players Michel Grailler and Gerard Bikialo, the septet ran the risk of going OTT on KOHNTARKOSZ (1974) {*8} – but that was the attraction of MAGMA. An ambitious and complex work criticised for its pretentiousness by some sections of the music press, its jam-fuelled 2-part title suite worked on its audience, balancing between Baroque (doom-laden in places) and choral solemnity; short-ish closer `Coltrane Sundia’ was their tribute to the jazz giant.
Never one to settle with permanent alumni (but for vocalists Stella and Klaus), Christian substituted old for new with Gabrial Federow (guitar), Bernard Paganotti (bass/percussion), Jean-Pol Asseline (keyboards) and future Zao recruit Didier Lockwood (electric violin). MAGMA’s appeal remained strong on home-soil; much in evidence on a double album concert, simply-entitled MAGMA LIVE (1975) {*8} and from the Taverne de L’Olympia in Paris. Similar in many respects to the era’s live albums by English prog-rock rivals, GENTLE GIANT, MAN, KING CRIMSON, the in-concert “best-of” aspect reeled in fans otherwise engaged.
1976’s UDU WUDU {*7} shifted gears once again when Vander surrendered over half the set to his jazz-rock side-kicks: Klaus and Bernard on `Weidorje’ and a returning “Janik” on `Soleil D’Ork’ and all 17-minutes of finale `De Futura’; note that Alain Hatot performed sax and flute, while Patrick Gauthier played a lesser role on synths.
Fresh faces and a fresh phase of funk-styled jazz-fusion was more than apparent on MAGMA’s attempt to crossover for ATTAHK (1978) {*7}. In a gap-year for leader Vander he reconvened (as “Dehrstun”) and re-christened his band-mates: Stella (as “Thaud”), Klaus (“Klotz”), vocalists Lisa Bois (“Sihnn”) and Rene Garber (“Stundehr”), Earth and Air bassist Guy Delacroix (“Urgon” and “Gorgo”), keyboardist Benoit Widemann (“Kahal”), while trumpeter Tony Russo and trombonist Jacques Bolognesi were also present and correct. Possessing a spiritual feel rather than a galactic interplanetary intensity that jazzers MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and RETURN TO FOREVER were equal to, the all-encompassing MAGMA brought forth inner light by way of `The Last Seven Minutes (1970-1971, Phase 1)’, the heavenly `Rinde (Eastern Song)’ and the scat-y `Dondai (To An Eternal Love)’ – the latter a precursor to Antony Hegarty, quite possibly?
Reuniting MAGMA for a series of shows in Paris between 9-11 June 1980, the recordings were turned into live sets for release the following year; split into the double RETROSPEKTIW (PARTS I+II) {*7} and the single-set RETROSPEKTIW (PART III) {*6}, which co-billed CHRISTIAN VANDER’s name and face on the sleeve.
Ready once again to commit to studio work, MAGMA/CHRISTIAN VANDER and a plethora of backing musicians, that, as always, included wife Stella, 1984 saw probably saw his most non-plus set of songs, MERCI {*3}. Sung in French, English and Kobaian, its only saving grace was in Rene Garber’s 11-minute Zeuhl piece, `Eliphas Levi’. Overall, this voyage into disco-pop was something of a misnomer for fans and critics alike.
For the remainder of the 80s and into the early 90s, CHRISTIAN VANDER (alongside Stella, Simon Goubert, Guy “Zu” Khalifa, J Bolognesi, et al) issued a handful of French-only albums, bookended by the eponymous OFFERING I-II (1986), the solo TO LOVE (1988), the Christian Vander Trio’s JOUR APRES JOUR (1990) and another OFFERING III-IV (1990) – all of the jazz variety.
Then, in 1992, the live LES VOIX DE MAGMA {*5} found its way to MAGMA fans, who’d been content in recent times to catch up on what they’d missed – if any.
In the meantime, jazz was the focus of attention for several sets by CHRISTIAN VANDER: the soundtrack show of LES VOYAGES DE CHRISTOPHE COLOMB (1992), the Christian Vander Trio’s 65! (1993), another “Offering” A FIIEH (1993), A TOUS LES ENFANTS (1994), as Welcome (with Simon Goubert) BIENVENUE (1996), as Christian Vander Quartet AU SUNSET (1999) and LES CYGNES ET LES CORBEAUX (2003).
Yet again another new MAGMA line-up surrounded both Christian and Stella in 2004 as the former recreated a prequel to “Kohntarkosz”, K.A. (KOHNTARKOSZ ANTERIA) {*8}, said to have been scribed some three decades ago. Delivered to most parts of Europe and the States through his own Seventh imprint, pieces had once appeared on the 1978 demos collection, “Inedits”, most notably the choral finale in Part III. And with James MacGaw (guitars) – alongside others Antoine Paganotti, Himiko Paganotti and Isabelle Feuillebois (vocals), Frederic d’Oelsnitz (Fender Rhodes), Emmanuel Borghi (piano, Fender Rhodes) and Philippe Bussonnet (bass) – there seemed to be cohesion for now.
If one’d forgotten that the trilogy was still incomplete, 2009’s EMEHNTEHTT-RE {*6} closed the last chapter once and for all. But in giving his characters a resurrection of sorts, elements of previous sets (from “Live/Hhai”, “Udu Wudu” and “Attahk”) crept into the equation. Still, a MAGMA set bursting out from the Earth was worth its weight in gold to loyal disciples; note also that Bruno Ruder replaced Frederic, and Benoit Alziary (vibraphone) plus Isabelle Feuillebois and Herve Aknin (vocals) were added.
On the back of a well-earned solo-set tribute to his hero, entitled JOHN COLTRANE L’HOMME SUPREME (2011) {*6}, MAGMA were once again causing the Earth to manoeuvre around them. 2012’s FELICITE THOSZ {*7} was more or less one prog-length jazz-rock symphony that went some way in re-instating the band; Jeremie Ternoy (keyboards) subsequently superseded Ruder.
The mini-set concept was continued a la RIAH SAHITAAHK (2014) {*6} – basically a re-working – plus companion piece SLAG TANZ (2015) {*7}; pronounced “schlag tanz”. On the latter 21-minute suite, the 8-piece MAGMA radiated light metal-core to their otherwise un-worldly jazz-prog. Now 35 years and counting since their flight from Kobaia to Earth, listening to the structures inside excerpts from `Imehntosz Alerte!’ to the sedate `Wohldunt’, MAGMA are indeed magickal with a K.
© MC Strong 1997/GPD // rev-up MCS Jan2015

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