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

MAGMA [AKA: KOBAĻA]

Magma

 

Zeuhl

4.05 | 395 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer
4 stars "I've had dreams. Dreams about John Coltrane. In them I'm trying to get somewhere, but it's far, far away. I'm searching. I keep trying to get to the concert, the Coltrane Concert. But by the time I arrive, it's over." -Christian Vander, describing his recurring dreams about John Coltrane, 2015 [The Wire Issue 381]

Christian Vander was born in 1948 near Paris. From a very early age, he knew he was different from his peers. As he confesses in one of the interviews, he never wore stylish clothes, nor listened to popular music in his teenage years. His bohemian mother introduced him to classical music and jazz. Young Vander even had the privilege of meeting Chet Baker and future Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones. However, no other musician had a bigger impact on him than Coltrane. With his obsession growing, the young man started regarding the musician almost as a god, a prophet or his father, more so, because Vander never met his biological parent. When the jazzman passed away in 1967, out of depression, Vander went on tour to Italy. "I arrived in Milan and I did everything I could to destroy myself. Took stuff, drank... And I was like that for nearly two years. But one morning in Turin I woke up and saw the town completely illuminated, like I'd never seen before. And I said to myself: John Coltrane didn't allow himself to die like this." He left, returned to Paris, and became more involved with musical groups, playing around local casinos. Together with Laurent Thibault, the future Magma producer, they invented the whole mythology of Kobaļa and composed the opening track of Magma's first, eponymous (however, also often called Kobaļa), double-LP album, which was released under the Phillips label 1970.

Magma tells a story of the Earth's enlightened, intellectual elite deciding to escape their planet in search of a new world to create a better civilization, far from their home, destroyed by wars and politics. They finally settle on the planet Kobaļa.

The album opens with a Cuban-esque groove accompanied by throbbing bass, tight rhythm guitar, passionate drumming, and a jazzy horn section. When Klaus Basquiz's vocals take the lead, presenting a story in an unidentified, Gothic-sounding language, some listeners might picture a more elaborate version of Blood, Sweat and Tears or Chicago. However, at one point, after a short, baffling interlude, owing a great deal to European classical music traditions as well as spiritual, almost voodoo culture-like choir singing, the track drops into a rapid, heavy free-jazz section recalling musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and even Peter Brötzmann. Then comes a contrasted, quieter, piano part, leading into a jazzy climax of this extremely powerful and effective opener - "Kobaļa.""Aļna" follows with a pleasant, laidback avant-jazz theme, including a double saxophone duel. The vocals posses a similar spiritual quality, rooted in New Orleans' soul music traditions, whose origins can be traced back to Africa. Suddenly, the track changes its path, expediting its pace and becoming far more sophisticated. "Malaria" continues the overall atmosphere with a somewhat unsettling intro, which dissolves into a more, catchy, Latin avant-rock motif, utilizing a dry overdriven guitar and, more prominently, a flute. Side two of the first LP is opened with a mysterious melody on interplaying flutes. The same melody is picked up by Claude Engel's guitar together with drums, piano, and a horn section accompanying. After numerous harmonic and dynamic variations on the theme, comes a quiet, Kind Of Blue-like cool-jazz part, hesitantly leading to the reprise of the introduction with a marching rhythm applied. This suddenly resolves into "Sckxyss", which takes no time to warm-up. The magic fusion of sexy jazz rhythms, Stravinsky-like neo-classical music, rocky guitar, and Magma's own avant-garde elements is a truly intoxicating one! "Auraė" follows a pattern similar to the previous tracks, stating a very different statement using a similar vocabulary. Here, Francois Cahen's flawless piano work in conjunction with one of the flutes plays a crucial role in the dark, ominous feel. The atmosphere, still unsettled, grows in power with other instruments starting to creep in. The tension is dissolved on a rather cheerful line, similar to Easter European music in its broken, uneven rhythms. Then, the song moves into jazzier scenery, without losing its quirky integrity. Once again, following the footsteps and describing the nature of each passage of this piece would create a biblical-length epic. The piece is closed in an aggressive, yet controlled manner.

Disc two starts as if presenting a new volume of the story, with a solo flute melody, picturing a lonely shepherd in the mountains sitting on a rock and entertaining himself with the instrument. Taking Magma's dynamic, expressive style into consideration, the calm atmosphere continues for a surprisingly long time, even when other instruments and vocals join in. "Thaud Zaļa" finally becomes very Magma-like with a slow, disciplined marching rhythm, which after many repetitions, and a few beat variations, leads to the lone flute passage. "Naü Ektila" opens with something very untypical of Magma - a folk acoustic guitar passage accompanied by a clarinet. The addition of vocals and bass don't make things more punchy, rather the opposite. Another acoustic, feminine part comes in. The remaining composition is built from there, featuring a great, dry rock guitar riff, powering the Santana-like Latin jazz-rock machine. The appearance of a percussion solo leads to loud free-form mayhem. As if from the ashes, comes a very Coltrane-like part with Franēois Cahen's amazing piano solo. With reappearances of the acoustic motif, the piece ends in a very classy, stylish way. "Stöah" starts with a high-pitched, screaming monolog in Kobaļan. The repetitive piano sequence, bringing a neo-classical chamber style of Hindemith and Stravinsky to mind, is presented with Klaus Basquiz's vocals. Later on in the piece, we get a bit of a teaser of the style Magma would employ on Mekanļk Destruktļẁ Kommandöh - jazzy piano passages with choir work very much reminiscent of Carl Orff. "Mūh" opens with a dreamy, celestial piano passage and for the first few minutes follows a similar aura, until the very cheerful Cuban jazz-like melody comes in, broken by a short neo-classical interlude and a lengthy, varied instrumental workout. As I've said a few times already, describing the exact direction of the music on some of the tracks would create a pointlessly long and boring review. The whole album closes with an odd recital in Kobaļan.

Magma's debut is characterized, above all, by incredible eclecticism, variation, and diversity, sophisticated compositions, magnificent musicianship, and capability of making all the influences, ranging from Stravinsky's dark, neo-classical works to free-jazz a la Sun Ra to Easter European folk to New Orleans soul music, work together and create a unique, one of a kind fruit. Furthermore, Magma or Kobaļa gave birth to a whole new sub-genre of progressive music known as "zeuhl." Atmospheric, vigorous, creative, unorthodox, innovative - these are just a few of many adjectives perfectly describing this music. Essential listening!

ALotOfBottle | 4/5 |

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