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Magma - Magma [Aka: Kobaļa] CD (album) cover





4.04 | 410 ratings

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4 stars And thus it begins...

Christian Vander, a young classically-trained and intelligent-thinking session drummer of France, who had worked on a number of R&B and jazz recordings, decided it time to form his own band. Immensely inspired by jazz-saxophonist legend John Coltrane, he formed an elite group of flautists, saxophonists, guitarists, pianists and bassists. Though the band is recognized as a French band, founded and based in France, none of the musicians (well, some during this line-up) are actually French. Klaus Blasquiz (one of the more notable contributions) is Basque; Christian (the heart and soul of the project) is three quarters German and a quarter Polish. Why is this important to note? Because during this era (and possibly still to a degree today) the French generally desired little or no innovation on the grounds of art.

Deciding to turn their backs on the French standard, and adopting a mildly avant-garde disposition, in 1969, in Paris, they began their foray into jazz territory. Though hugely inspired by Coltrane, Vander and listeners will all agree there is virtually no musical connection between the two. Though at first they were met with apathy by the general public, they slowly gained recognition and respect, until in 1970 they obtained a chance to record this: their double debut. The fact that they were given the real estate of two entire discs for the debut is notable. At the time, many thought Magma would turn out to be "the next big thing".

With their own constructed language, Kobaļan, they recounted futuristic tales illuminating the doomed future of mankind, the silliness of their ways, and, alas, the slim but apparent hope for the future. Disc one deals with the group of peaceful separatists who invest their money into the construction of a spacecraft and depart Earth, to make for a new home. Their rationale for leaving is their lack of hope for Earth's future, and lack of faith in its political structure. But, most importantly, Earth was lost spiritually, and the separatists desired a more spiritual (but not religious - there's a great difference) culture. In fact, Vander himself states that his largest inspiration for the concept of Magma was a "vision of humanity's spiritual and ecological future." Along their way, the colonists rest on foreign planets, trying them out, until finally they find the perfect Kobaļa. Through much hardship they arrive here and begin their new world, erect buildings, establish are just and fully democratic political system, and live in peace for many years. The key of the new civilization is their ability to find harmony with nature, yet strive for technological advancements. The Kobaļans truly found a balance in this ideal society.

Disc one is more of a backstory and history to the entire Kobaļan saga. Disc Two (though still much a history) is the beginning of the true story. Much further into the future, descendants of the original colonists see a heavily damaged spacecraft floating hopelessly outside the atmosphere, unable to land, and trapped in perpetual orbit. They themselves fly up and rescue the passengers of the totaled vehicle, to find that they are the long-forgotten Earthlings. The Earth-dwellers recount the depth Earth has fallen to; the corruptness of the political leaders; the horrors, disasters, wars, and general deterioration that Earth has been subject to. Their pleas are heard by the Kobaļans, and with only minor hesitations, they set off with the Earthlings for their ancient forefathers' home. This is as far as the words will take us on this release; the rest of this album must be heard, and there is a dimension of the story that is purely musical.

Musically, Kobaļa (or Magma, whichever name you wish to refer to it by) is a quickly evolving avant-garde jazz release, with very little Zeuhl. Marching themes, operatic vocals, grand scale, and the mild minimalism influence are all yet to be worked into the fabric of the band, though still dimly appear for scarce moments here. Just like the dialogue of the album is greatly the Kobaļan history, the music of this album is the greatly a prelude to Zeuhl. This side of Zeuhl will always be in the genre's mind: the sharp and tight arrangements, balanced with the organic and improvised playing, and even scattered beautiful melodies. However, most bands in this great genre focus on the Zeuhl sound finally generated with 1973's Mekanļk Destruktļw Kommandöh (largely considered the first and classic album of the genre). Regardless, the music is addictive and tasty whether it is true Zeuhl or not.

When first I purchased this album, I was fully prepared to bestow it a five star rating, but after hearing the rest of Magma's catalogue, it sent things into perspective. By the huge standards they later set for themselves, this is certainly not a full masterpiece. Musically it is phenomenal, and the narration it depicts is vital to the understanding of the later albums, however it is not as spiritual as their other albums. Mekanļk Destruktļw Kommandöh, Wurdah Ļtah, and Köhntarkösz are all extremely holy, in a sense, with a huge otherworldly atmosphere, a great sense of exaltation for the universe (and, more notably, Kreuhn Kohrman, the Supreme Being). Lastly, the other albums' vocal work portrayed the act of exorcism and self purification. Here, the vocals are more dissonant in places, and are often sung not much differently than any regular jazz. Magma is anything but a regular jazz band.

Though still a preface to the Zeuhl genre, Magma's debut is wholesome and complete. Conceptually it is not flawed or irrelevant; musically it is unique, challenging, and extremely enjoyable. I personally would not consider this a great starting place for the Zeuhl genre (and there are many who would agree with me), however it is truly the history of the Zeuhl genre, and is essential for any fan of the genre or the band.

Shakespeare | 4/5 |


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