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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Magma

Mythes Et Legendes II DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

May of 2005, legendary French band Magma entered into an audacious and expansive project. Taking up residency at the legendary Paris club Le Triton for 4 consecutive weeks, the band worked up 4 totally different set lists, sequentially looking back at over 30 years of music. With material reaching back to their first album in 1970, up through their most recent studio release (K.A., 2004), the shows were as much a celebration of the continued vibrancy and life of their work as it was a commemorative of what once was.

These shows were recorded for future release as a series of performance DVDs under the overarching title Mythes Et Legendes. This, the second release in the series, captures what was labeled the “Maximum Event,” reuniting founder Christian Vander and monster bassist Jannick Top to burn through a set of the band’s strongest and perhaps best known material.

The DVD opens with a tight and emotional reading of “Wurdah Itah.” Initially released under Christian Vander’s name as the soundtrack to Yvan LaGrange’s film of Tristan Y Iseult, it is the second movement in Magma’s epic Theusz Hamtaahk (Time of Hatred) trilogy. This rendition is, to my hears, more lushly orchestrated and richly appointed than the initial studio release, which was by default a far more stripped down affair. The years have not dulled any of Christian Vander’s intensity; if anything, it has honed it to a razor sharp keenness. The line-up immortalized on this DVD, perhaps one of the longest running line-ups in Magma’s history, handles the complexity with ease, as if playing the material was as natural as walking or breathing. This performance is perhaps the definitive release of this composition.

Most bands would have a difficult time following up a performance filled with such intensity; for Magma, it was simply a warm-up. The second track on this DVD is perhaps their best known extended suite, released in 1973 as the album Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. A deceptive opening, gentle, with piano and a single female voice, soon builds through repetition and layers of electric piano, choral male and female vocals, and the complimentary bass work of Top and long time Magma bassist Phillipe Bussonnet (the return of the twin bass, air bass/earth bass attack?). MDK is intensity made nearly material and physical, and well over 30 years on from its release, the track has lost not one iota of that intensity.

Viewers are offered a brief respite as the band leaves the stage, the audience in the capable hands of Jannick Top. He opens his brief solo spotlight with a gentle take on J.S. Bach’s “Suite Pout Violoncelle,” leading into an edgy and slightly wild “Quadrivium.” It’s odd, in a way, seeing Jannick Top back on a stage with Magma, imposing, in black vest and sunglasses, head shaved, especially considering his more recent work with such wildly differing artists as Bonnie Tyler, Eurythmics, Ray Charles and Céline Dion. Yet it also seems and feels right; while he may not be the wild, verging on unhinged player he once was, the overarching regal, stately power of his bass work has remained consistent.

Mythes Et Legendes II closes out by jumping forward in time to 1976, concluding with an extended performance of “De Futura,” the side long track that closed out the band’s Udu Wudu album. For the vocal sections on this piece, the band is joined by uncredited guest Klaus Blasquiz, who, along with Stella Vander, siblings Himiko and Antoine Paganotti (children of long-time Magma bassist Bernard Paganotti) and Isabelle Feuillebois, navigates the labyrinthine vocal twists and turns with ease. This performance is slowed down drastically when compared to the original studio take, but the decrease in tempo does not strip the song of its power. If anything, the performance is more intense by far as a result. Bussonnet and Top sync well together on bass, and at times, the old air bass/earth bass dual attack that drove the 1977-1980 band can be glimpsed. It’s a fantastic and appropriate way to close out this second DVD.

The performances are excellent and verge on the definitive. Sound quality is phenomenal; viewers may be well advised to turn the volume down on their subwoofers lest small objects oscillate off shelves, or windows shatter. At the same time, vocals are crisp and clear, and dynamics retain their attack, without being compressed into submission. The DVD is presented in 16x9 wide screen, and in general video quality is very good to excellent. As the band seems to prefer understated lighting, occasionally picture quality gets a touch soft, but not so much as to be distracting. Loads of close-ups offer a 1st person look at how the songs are played, and shots are allowed to develop, a refreshing change from modern MTV-itis infected video editing.

Hearing Magma on album is an experience, but it does not prepare you for the experience of seeing these complex compositions performed live. While it would be presumptuous to state that viewing Mythes Et Legendes II will turn anyone into a fan of Magma (let’s face it, the vocals, most of which are sung in the invented language Kobaian, are very much an acquired taste), it brings viewers one step closer to experiencing the band at their best, breathing continued life and vitality into their life’s work.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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