In 1969, Christian Vander had a vision. His vision was “humanity’s spiritual and ecological future.” What he saw worried him. So Christian Vander decided to share his vision of the future. The way he chose to do this, was through music. Christian Vander was a classically trained drummer, and in 1969, ormed what would become the leading French, progressive rock band, Magma. They released their eponymous debut album in 1969, and it featured Christian Vander’s vision of the future.
Critics and cultural commentators waited with baited breath to hear what Christian Vander’s vision for the future was on Magma. To some extent, they’re still waiting.
Before the release of Magma, it became clear that that album told the story of a group of people who, having realised the earth is doomed, decide to resettle on the new and fictional planet Kobaï. This many critics thought was a taster of what they would find on Magma. They were in for a surprise.
Christian Vander had constructed his own Magma-esque language, Kobaïan. It’s a fusion of Slavic and German, that would become a feature of Magma’s ten concept albums. Magma would also rely upon Kobaïan for the various live albums they released between 1975 and 2000. These live albums have been recently reissued by Jazz Village as part of the twelve-disc Köhnzert Zünd box set.
The Köhnzert Zünd box set is a welcome reissue for fans of Magma, and is the perfect companion to the Studio Zund twelve disc box set. When Studio Zund was released in 2009, Magma fans wondered why there was no live material in the box set? Now they know. Even back then, it looks like plans were afoot to release the definitive box set of Magma’s live material. So, what can be found in the the twelve-disc Köhnzert Zünd box set?
When I unpacked Köhnzert Zünd, I couldn’t help be impressed by the sculptural quality of the box set. It’s akin to a mini work of art. A great deal of time and effort was put into the design of Köhnzert Zünd. It puts many of the cheaply made box sets to shame. Jazz Village deserve to be congratulated on the design of Köhnzert Zünd box set. However, as a man once said: “what’s in the box?”
The first two discs in the Köhnzert Zünd box set feature what was Magma’s first live album, Magma Live. However, Magma Live has also been released as Live/Hhaï, Live Köhntark and Hhaï Live. Indeed, the first disc in the Köhnzert Zünd box set is entitled Live Köhntark and the second disc Live Hhaï. The recording of Magma Alive took place where the Magma story began six years earlier…Paris.
Record of what became Magma Alive took place in Magma’s home city, Paris. Magma were due to play a series of concerts between the 1st and 5th June 1975. Each of these concerts were recorded, and eight tracks became Magma Alive, which was released later in 1975.
When Magma Live was released, it became the fifth album of Magma’s career. The eight members of Magma revisited tracks from their first four studio albums, and in doing so, flitted between progressive rock, folk, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Very occasionally, it isn’t easy listening. Instead, it’s challenging, but well worth sticking with it, as Magma welcome you to their world. By then, they were one of the leading lights of the European progressive rock scene.
Retrospektïẁ (Parts I and II).
Just over six years after Magma recorded Magma Alive, Magma were preparing to record the second live album of their career, Retrospektïẁ (Parts I and II). Much had happened to Magma during that period.
When Magma released their sixth studio album, Üdü Ẁüdü in 1976, it was to critical acclaim. Magma’s star was in the ascendancy, and they were regarded as European progressive rock royalty. However, behind the scenes, all wasn’t well.
Following the release of Üdü Ẁüdü, Magma split-up. Surely, Magma weren’t going to be consigned to musical history? They had only released six studio albums and one live album?
After a year, Magma reunited, and work began on their seventh album. However, word leaked out from the recording studio that Magma had changed direction slightly on what became Attahk. Elements of funk, gospel and pop were finding their way onto Attahk. This would divide the opinion of some of Magma’s fans.
They preferred Magma pre-Attahk. Funk, gospel and pop didn’t belong on a Magma album. Other fans were willing to give Attahk a chance.What they found, was the most eclectic album of Magma’s career. While not as good as their first six studio albums, at least Magma were were back. Or were they?
On the 9th June 1981, Magma found themselves in Paris, about to a series of comeback concerts. Much had changed, including Magma’s lineup. It’s best described as fluid, and new members of Magma made their debut in Paris, and set about recording what became their first album in three years. By the 11th June 1981, it was a case of mission accomplished.
Later in 1981, Magma released Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh Parts 1 and 2. The album was billed as Christian Vander and Magma. This raised a few eyebrows. What was going on with Magma? Were they a band divided? However, that was soon forgotten.
Christian Vander’s band had rolled back the years. They opened the show with Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh Parts 1 and 2, which featured on disc three of Köhnzert Zünd. Magma then worked their way through Theusz Hamtaahk Parts 1 and 2, which features on disc four of Köhnzert Zünd. This quartet of lengthy tracks allowed Magma to stretch their legs, fusing art rock, avant garde, free jazz and rock. As Magma showcased their considerable skills on Retrospektïẁ (Parts I and II), it was a reminder of what Magma’s fans had been missing. So was the followup.
Retrospektïẁ (Part III).
Rather than release a triple album, Magma decided to release the double album Retrospektïẁ (Parts I and II); and then Retrospektïẁ (Part III). Financially, this makes sense. It would be more profitable to things this way. Whether Christian Vander and Magma had even considered this, isn’t know. All they were thinking of, were a series of reunion concerts in their hometown.
Between the 9th and 11th June 1981, Christian Vander and Magma, took to the stage, and worked their way through a trio of tracks.They’re all penned by Christian Vander, who founded Magma twelve years earlier in 1969. Since then, much had happened to Magma. However, still Christian Vander marshalled his band from his drum stool.
Christian Vander plays a starring role on an eighteen minute version of Retrovision (Je Suis Revenu De L’Univers). Then Hhai (Version Intégrale takes a myriad of twists and turns, over thirteen captivating minutes. Closing the show and Retrospektïẁ (Part III), which features on disc five of Köhnzert Zünd, was La Dawotsin. Magma’s hometown reunion had been a success. Maybe, Magma would return to the recording studio?
Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie.
Three years after their reunion in Paris, Magma released their next studio album, Merci in 1984. After waiting patiently for three, years Merci proved a disappointing addition the Magma back-catalogue. Magma it seemed, had lost their way. Sadly, twenty years would pass before they returned to the studio. They would release another live album, Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie.
This was the most ambitious live album of Magma’s career. It was recorded at the Trianon Theater, Paris, on the 13th and 14th May 2000. These two shows were part of Magma’s thirtieth anniversary tour. However, this was no greatest hits tour.
Christian Vander had planned Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie’s schedule carefully. Each night, Magma would play three movements. What became the First Movement, Theusz Hamtaahk, had been part of Magma’s repertoire since the mid-seventies. The Second Movement: Ẁurdah Ïtah saw Magma replicated the soundtrack to Yvan Lagrange’s 1972 avant-garde movie Tristan et Iseult. Christian Vander had provided the soundtrack to the film. Over two nights in May 2000, Magma would recreate the soundtrack. Then the Third Movement was Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, which was Magma’s critically acclaimed third album. It had been released in 1973, and is regarded as Magma’s finest hour. This seemed a fitting way to close Magma’s thirtieth anniversary concerts in their hometown.
Magma didn’t disappoint. That’s apparent on discs six, seven and eight on Köhnzert Zünd. They feature the three movements in the Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie. Literally, Magma roll back the years. Especially when they revisit their Kobaïan opus Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh. It’s the highlight of the Trilogie Theusz Hamtaahk, with Ẁurdah Ïtah coming not far behind.
When Trilogie Theusz Hamtaahk was released in 2001, what was not just Magma’s most ambitious live album, but one of the most ambitious live albums of recent years was hailed a success. Critics felt Magma were maturing, like a fine wine. Proof of that was Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie, which some critics regarded as the finest live album of Magma’s long and illustrious career. However, they weren’t finished yet.
Since the release of Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogie in 2001, Magma have headed out on several tours. This included their 2005 tour, which is documented on the six tracks on Triton Zünd Zëlëkt I on disc nine of Köhnzert Zünd. Just like before, Magma aren’t content to stand still, and are determined to reinvent their music. That’s also the case on Triton Zünd Zëlëkt II, which was recorded in 2011. It featured on disc ten of Köhnzert Zünd, and features a genre-melting performance from Magma on Riah Sahiltaahk, Dondaï, Slag Tanz and Maahnt. After forty-two years making music, Magma, lead by the inimitable Christian Vander show they’ve lost none of their flair and inventiveness. That was the case with the Alahambra concerts on discs eleven and twelve.
Alahambra 1 and 2.
One of the most welcome additions on the Köhnzert Zünd box set, was the Alahambra. It spans discs eleven and twelve, and features a masterful performance from Magma, that’s been crying out to be released.
That becomes apparent as the Alahambra concert opens with a seven minute version of Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I. It’s the musical equivalent of an amuse bouche. Magma then work their way through the four parts. This takes another forty-one minutes, and during that time, one can’t help but marvel at Magma’s performance. They’ve lost none of their enthusiasm, flair or showmanship, as they combine progressive rock, jazz and rock. Disc eleven closes with the melancholy Funërarium Kahnt.
Then disc twelve, the final disc in the Köhnzert Zünd box set features one of the hidden gems, Félicité Thösz. It’s a thirty minute epic. Spellbinding describes Magma’s performance, which gives way to Sëhntëhndëh. At sixteen minutes, its almost a lesson in brevity. However, Christian Vander pull out the stobs, and leave nothing behind. It’s a fitting finale to the Köhnzert Zünd box set.
For fans of Magma, Köhnzert Zünd box set will be a must have. They’ll need to be quick. This is a limited edition release. Only 5,000 copies are available of the definitive retrospective of Magma’s live career. It began in 1975, and lasts right through to 2011. During that thirty-six year period, Christian Vander was and is, lead Magma through good and bad times.
Magma’s lineup has been fluid. Members have come and gone over the last forty-six years. There’s also been breakups, makeups and reunions.During these reunions, Magma have been the homecoming Kings, in their home city of Paris. That’s where they seem most at home, and deliver some of the best performances on the Köhnzert Zünd box set, which was recently released by Jazz Village. However, that’s not surprising.
It was in Paris in 1969, that Christian Vander founded Magma. Since then, Paris has been home to one of the greatest European progressive bands Magma. Their live career is documented in Köhnzert Zünd; which is the perfect companion to the Studio Zund box set; and shows why after forty-six years, twelve studio albums and countless changes in lineup, that Magma are still France’s Kings of progressive rock.