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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Magma

Mythes Et Legendes III DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

In 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 DVD’s under the overarching title Mythes Et Legendes. This, the third release in the series, documents the band’s material as they generally moved away from the extended, album length opuses Magma is best known for. This was a bit of a strange period in Magma’s history, as the shorter, song oriented tracks, often with more distinct elements of jazz, traditional rhythm and blues and soul elements, moved far away from the cosmic Zeuhl music most fans were expecting. This DVD also reunites Benoît Widemann with the group; Benoît contributed synthesizer work to the band starting with 1975’s Live/Hhai release up through the “final” Magma album, 1984’s Merci.

The performance begins with the entry of the band to the stage, the vocalists and instrumentalists taking their places. Antoine Paganotti looks over, apparently to band leader Christian Vander, who signals (off screen) to begin. Paganotti smiles briefly before turning to the microphone and shouting “HAMTAI!” as Kohntarkosz (1974) begins. Like so many Magma compositions, this piece begins slowly, with layers of chanted Kobaian lyrics building in intensity toward a final cataclysmic eruption. The music is often brooding, based around a heady mix of electric piano, Vander’s Elvin Jones-inspired drumming, and Phillipe Bussonnet’s fluid bass playing. James Mac Gaw adds electrifying guitar licks throughout the lengthy composition, adding still more tension to a track that is often at risk of explosion from the intensity. This energy is turned inward, driving the performance to peaks that rival the band at their early heights.

Following on from this, Magma moves into a series of shorter tracks performed mostly in suite format. “Lihns” is a highlight of any show it is performed at; veritably a lullaby, it offers Christian Vander a chance to take center stage and flex his vocal chops. His singing voice is smooth and natural, and had he not been the drummer for Magma, he may well have made his mark as the group’s lead singer. The song is gentle and beautiful, and shows Magma to be a band capable of great diversity in their music. A medley/suite is built around a selection of tracks drawn primarily from 1976’s Udu Wudu and 1978’s Attahk albums. “Emehnteht-Re,” a track which will form the basis of the band’s forthcoming 2008 studio opus, is wrapped around performances of “Hhai” (drawn from the 1975 live album which also served as the debut for “Lihns”), “Rindoh” (from Attahk) and “Zombies” (from Udu Wudu; interestingly, the CD release of this album features an extract from “Emehnteht-Re” as a bonus track). The pieces flow nicely into each other, and it will be interesting to see in a year how this compares to the soon to be completed album-length version of Emehnteht-Re the band will be releasing.

The DVD and performance close with a pair of additional tracks from Attahk; “Nono” is a hypnotic and infectious track, deceptive in its simplicity and catchy enough to have the listener/viewer humming it for hours. On the other hand, “The Last Seven Minutes” is a powerful fusion inflected instrumental workout that shows Magma at their instrumental best, sounding very much like a mix of Offering (Christian Vander’s acoustic jazz ensemble) and One Shot (an electric fusion combo founded by Bussonnet, Mac Gaw and Emmanuel Borghi, who interestingly also played with Offering). This last track also features a second camera angle, allowing the viewer to remain locked on to Christian Vander throughout the performance. It’s a feature that the band and label would do well to consider reusing on the final DVD release.

I’ll echo what I wrote in my review of the second DVD with regard to video quality. To save you a trip back to that review, here were my thoughts:

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.

Much like the previous DVD releases in this series, Mythes Et Legendes III brings viewers one step closer to experiencing the band at their best, breathing continued life and vitality into their life’s work. If the viewer can accept the vocals (again, extensively Kobaian, as the band had not yet fully divested themselves of the Kobaian mythos at this point in their career) as another musical voice and instrument, one may find the act of viewing the band play these compositions moves the viewer beyond appreciation and closer to fandom.

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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