It should be no real surprise that French avant-prog originals Magma build such a commanding presence in London’s Cadogan Hall – a venue usually associated with classical music concerts. Since 1969, founder, vocalist and drummer, Christian Vander, has doggedly developed and refined the musical language of Zeuhl – a unique aesthetic that owes as much to Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ as it does to high-octane jazz-fusion.
In pursuing his singular vision, Vander has always been willing to revise and revisit pivotal moments in his epic space opera recounting the cosmic travails of the people of the planet Kobaïa – and tonight’s repertoire of four lengthy suites in two hours touches on canonic works including 1974’s ‘Köhntarkösz Parts I & II’ and 1973’s ‘Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh.’ But, while Vander’s compositions can convey a martial rigidity on the original recordings, in this live setting they open up into a much more loose and daring environment.
Now 67, Vander can’t quite summon the same sustained attack that characterised those earlier recordings but he maintains a trenchant grip on interlocking polyrhythms, signaling shifts with subtle and precise cymbal punctuation – and providing a stern framework for long-standing bassist Philippe Bussonnet to unleash some truly ferocious fuzz-riffs.If electric guitar, Fender Rhodes and Benoit Alziary’s muscular vibraphone essay something of the same mix of complexity and verve found in Roxy-era Zappa, then vocal chants from Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois and Hervé Aknin – simultaneously stentorian and otherworldly, and all delivered in Vander’s clipped and commanding Kobaïan language – mark this out as a much stranger proposition.
Sitting in the dimmed and ornate auditorium, on the very same day of a newly returned Conservative majority, just a stone’s throw from champagne quaffing young Tories on Sloane Square, it’s possible to lose yourself in a dark reverie, with Magma’s Wagnerian pomp signaling a cold new shadow of cruel-eyed bureaucratic barbarism sweeping over Europe. But then the lights come up and you realise you were daydreaming. At least for now.
– Daniel Spicer