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Magma - Live/Hhaï (Köhntark) CD (album) cover





4.44 | 242 ratings

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4 stars Right then, Magma Live/Hhaï/Köhntark - what can I say? This legendary live double album is beloved - venerated! - by Magmaphiles and is often recommended as an excellent place to begin your personal Zeuhl Odyssey... should you be Kobaïa-bound. ;-)

'Zünd 1' starts out with 'Köhntark' parts 1 and 2 (that's 'Köhntarkösz', slightly re-titled for contractual reasons, apparently!). The studio album version of 'Köhntarkösz' is one of my various joint-favourite Magma albums - that airless, hallucinatory feel, the disturbing, inevitably-processing-precision of it, that menacing, creeping clench along your spine from music that is only just on the bearable side of sinister... ooooh, I love that! But this live version - in common with other live versions I've heard - is much more sprightly and light-hearted somehow, and as magnificent as the playing undoubtedly is, it's really a bit too jolly and cosy to have the same perspiration-flecked 'horrify me' appeal of the studio version. (Well, maybe that's just me!) Suffice it to say, in slightly less garbled language, that no live performance can ever be as acoustically-controlled as a studio recording, and letting this music spread out in a large, friendly space has a completely different feel to the pressurised-gas-canister ambience of the original.

Ëmëhntëht-Rê smears its way across your eardrums with eerie vocal harmonies, before Klaus begins to whisper creepily, mouthing the performers' Kobaïan names and invoking the good old 'Zeuhl Wortz Mekanïk'. Now the famous Magma repetition gets going - endless, punishing, ticklish percussion, vocals and keyboards obsessing over the same falling 3-note figure, before subtly swapping that for a seasick lurch around a 5-note figure... and that's it. It fades out into nothing, leaving the hardened Magma addict craving more, and the Magma neophyte presumably baffled. As I write this, I'm not enough of a Magma sage to have heard any other interpretations of this piece (unless you count that bonus 'extract' that comes with 'Üdü Wüdü'), but presumably we will hear the whole thing on the forthcoming 'Ëmëhntëht-Rê' album.

Now on to 'Zünd 2'. Which... rocks. Did I say it rocks? It rocks, HARD. :-) Whilst Didier Lockwood's violin-wrangling is rather annoying in places on the first disc, here it becomes delicious decoration - fabulous frosting! The pieces on the second disc are much better suited to this lyrical, melodious, optimistic version of Magma.

'Hhaï' bursts forth with joyous exuberance: the drumming is exceptional, stupendous, like an extension of Vander's life-force! (Oh dear, sorry, that does sound pretentious. Why is it so hard to rein in the linguistic excesses when attempting to describe this music?!) Vander's vocals are beautiful, expressive, just emotional enough without becoming sentimental. For me, 'emotion' is the key word with Magma, and especially Vander. Every note, every made-up word, is there in the service of feelings - strong and sincere feelings, which (certainly for me) more than transcend their fictional trappings. I think that's a huge component of whether you are going to enjoy and appreciate this music (beyond a straightforward judgement of how good the musicianship is). If the underlying feelings reach you and speak to you, then no amount of sci-fi silliness is going to detract from that. (Indeed, a bit of interplanetary tomfoolery to keep things lighthearted might be rather welcome!)

Next, 'Kobah' ('Kobaïa', of course, in disguise) is introduced, greeted with rapture by the audience - and here, just like on any really excellent live album, the audience almost become part of the music. I could say something 'intellectual' now about 'the timbre of the room' etc. etc., but I shan't. ;-) Anyway, 'Kobaïa'! This is just a sheer delight. The song is transformed from its self-conscious, intense, weird-jazz incarnation on the debut album, and becomes Transcendently Funky. The singers are having great fun with it - everyone is having great fun with it! If you are not dancing and singing (or at the very least, tapping your foot and humming) after about 30 seconds, then I have to ask - what is wrong with you?! On the other hand, you might have to ask the same of me if you saw me leaping around ecstatically to this music!!

'Lïhns' comes gently circling in, quickly building into rapturous repetitions. I am told 'Lïhns' means 'rain', and this song certainly has a trickling, tinkling, rain-dropping onomatopoeia about it. Short, sweet and lovely. Here is one of the places where Didier ceases to be a precocious bother and at last sounds like part of the band - part of the arrangement, a welcome addition. The pizzicato 'raindrops' are just right. This piece was re-recorded sans audience (owing to problems with the first recorded attempt on stage), but it retains that lovely expectant atmosphere of the rest of the album.

Right - let's get serious! Now it's time to get on board the mothership. I hope you remembered to pack your toothbrush. ;-) 'Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanïk' followed by 'Mekanïk Zaïn' - do words fail your humble reviewer?! Unfortunately for you, no, they don't! By now, the band and audience are Somewhere Else. It won't be long before you are, too. My first impression of this heady 'best of MDK' workout was (a) Hmm, I prefer more build up with this piece and (b) Gaah, Didier, put it away, now! But it's actually become one of my favourite versions - although I'm not a big fan of the phenomenon of the 'extended jam' on the whole, this one has really grown on me. Magma's music seems to require the listener to 'get in the zone' with the performers. You have to be (horrible phrase) 'really into it' to feel the full force of the music. If you happen to be in the right frame of mind, this music really can transport you. The best word for the playing here is 'instinctive' - it all feels very relaxed and joyful, without ever being slack or undisciplined. Everyone's fantastic but I have to call Vander's drumming 'supernatural'. Managing to pound out a repetitive beat whilst also sounding 'musical', impressing that whip-strict Magma discipline on everything whilst also sounding as free and chaotic as an attack of the giggles... how does he do it?! I think there may be a Faustian pact involved! Anyway, fair warning time - more ridiculous singing and dancing may ensue when you listen to this!

Ok, so is this really the right place to start listening to Magma? I think that very much depends on what else you like musically. If you like 'fusion' more than you like 'avant' then by all means start here. But I don't think the first disc would have impressed me much, coming to it 'cold', and whilst disc two on its own is certainly worth 5 stars, a large part of the appeal of the whole album is, for me, based on familiarity with the music from other sources. It really is a celebration, a gift to fans of the band - and thus possibly best enjoyed by the hapless, helpless, irredeemable Magma freak! If like me you have a penchant for the downright odd, you might be better off plunging straight into 'MDK', 'Retrospektïw I-II', or even 'Wurdah Ïtah'. Jazz fans could give '1001 Degrés Centigrades' a whirl.

So, how many stars from me? Four: because disc one is very good, but nowhere near as good as disc two, which is Magmanificent!

song_of_copper | 4/5 |


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