AMN Reviews: Magma – Zess (2019; Seventh Records)

A new Magma release is almost always a monumental occasion. In fact, in a rare dabbling with physical media, I ordered the CD of Zess to be able to listen to it as soon as possible. For those on the fence of whether to obtain the actual CD, the packaging is excellent and includes a detailed booklet in both French and English with translations of the Kobaian lyrics. (Magma is the originator of Zeuhl music and most albums are sung in their made-up language, Kobaian.)

The album marks the 50th anniversary of the group, still led by Christian Vander with long-time member Stella Vander. Given that the Vanders are not young anymore – though still quite actively touring – one has to wonder whether this will be the last Magma studio album.  The lyrics foreshadow as much. Speculation aside, Zess stands on its own as a singular entry in the group’s discography – first because Christian does not play drums, and second because of the addition of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Vanders provide lead vocals over the seven interlinked tracks, with Christian taking the lion’s share of that role, as well as narration and compositions. As the album progresses, he artfully blends spoken word with singing. Morgan Agren fills in on drums, while established collaborators Simon Goubert and Phillipe Boussonnet play keyboards and bass, respectively. New to the group is Rudy Blas on guitar. Backing vocalists include Magma veterans Isabelle Feuillebois, Herve Aknin, and Julie Vander along with four others.

The music of Magma is hard to explain to someone who has never heard it. Over the years, references to Carl Orff, Richard Wagner, and John Coltrane have been made, though the modern incarnation of the group has tended to eschew the latter’s influence. With the orchestra, the Orff comparison probably works best, but here the classical music is mostly in the background providing textural accompaniment until the album’s climax during the fifth and sixth tracks (more on that later). But picture Orff performed by a progressive rock group with a heavy vocal emphasis. And the singers do not sing as much as chant or scat. Indeed, the voices in Magma have taken on larger and larger roles over the years, becoming yet more instruments for Vander to employ.

Zess broods with an unusual intensity. It begins with an angularly lilting chorus accompanied by piano chording and orchestral swells. Christian starts his narration at this point and the orchestra drops into the background for a piece largely featuring a repetitive drum, bass, and keyboard pattern supporting his emotive storytelling (which begins in French before switching to Kobaian in the third track).

At this point, the potency of Zess comes into its own and Christan scats over swelling strings and more complex melodics breaks, layered harmonies, and punctuated choral lines into the next piece. And it is the two penultimate parts of Zess that unleash the power of Magma with Christan and Stella leading the singers through waves of horns and strings grounded by Agren’s driving, snare-heavy drumming. This reaches a metaphysical pinnacle with Christian singing over vocal patterns from the other singers, which are accompanied by the band and orchestra operating at full bore. A short coda with call-and-response arrangements finishes the album.

Light and dark, joy and pain, the cosmic and the earthbound. Magma.

Like much of Christian’s post-2000 writing, Zess is not a new composition. Parts of it have been floating around since 1977 and can be heard in different forms on various live releases and bootlegs. But there can be no doubt that this is the definitive edition.

Is this the swan song for Magma? Hard to say and I certainly hope not.  The group has a concert schedule that extends through the end of the year, so that is a good sign. In the mean time, Zess is yet another high point of the group’s discography – not just an album but an intellectual and spiritual experience.

San Francisco Scene: June 21-28, 2019

Source: Bay Improviser.

Friday, June 21
Fri 6/21 5:00 PM Chapel of the Chimes [4499 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, California]
Garden of Memory at Chapel of the Chimes

Saturday, June 22

Sat 6/22 5:30 PM Center for New Music [55 Taylor St SF, CA]
Join us for a celebration of the Bay Area invented instrument community and C4NM’s Window Gallery. 5:30-7pm, our Board of Directors will host a reception with new music by curators Bart Hopkin and David Samas. From 7-9pm Pamela Z and Donald Swearingen will perform alongside special guests Krys Bobrowski, Brenda Hutchinson, and the Karen Stackpole Trio. Proceeds from this special event will support C4NM’s Window Gallery, allowing us to continue presenting the most imaginative instrument inventors and artists crossing the boundaries between visual art, acoustic craftsmanship, and music.

Sat 6/22 6:00 PM Berkeley Finnsh Hall [1970 Chestnut St. Berkeley]
“A little more than a month before Dinner Concert”, a benefit for Outsound Presents featuring music by Moe! Staiano & Melne Murphy

Sat 6/22 8:00 PM The Lab [2948 16th St SF (@capp street)]
Phillip Greenlief: The Known Universe for Olivia
7:30 p.m. doors/8 p.m. performance

Sunday, June 23

Sun 6/23 4:30 PM Bird & Beckett Books and Records [653 Chenery St. SF]
Karl Evangelista’s Labas: Exploring the Filipino-American Avant-Garde
Filipino-American guitarist/composer Karl Evangelista is joined by an all-star cast of instrumentalists for “Labas”, a journey through Filipino tradition and the immigrant experience by way of modern jazz and powerful sonic abstraction.

Sun 6/23 5:00 PM Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive [2155 Center St. Berkeley]
Dynamic members of the Bay Area jazz scene since the 1970s, Idris Ackamoor ☥ and the Pyramids perform an evening of their signature intergalactic jazz funk, afrobeat grooves, and hypnotic licks. The lineup features Ackamoor, Sandy Poindexter, Lionel Tanner, Bobby Cobb, Abdul Waheed, and a special guest.

Sun 6/23 6:00 PM The Armory Club [1799 Mission St, San Francisco, California 94103]
Modular Synthesizers + Shibari: Last FM+1 Mystery Event was such a success, Phuturo and Franck Martin are doing another one!

Sun 6/23 7:30 PM SIMM Series @ The Musicians Union Hall [116 9th St @ Mission SF]
7:30 PM Andrew Jamieson – piano
8:30 PM Scott Stobbe + 2
Scott Braziel-Keyboard, Herbert Diamant-Reeds, Scott Stobbe-guitar

Monday, June 24

Mon 6/24 8:00 PM Make-Out Room [3225 22nd St SF]
The Monday Make-Out II
The cutting edge of Bay Area jazz and improvised music–
Set #1: Z-Bug (industrial jazz)
(David Leikam – NS Design CR6 string cello, Moog synthesizer, acoustic p, Sheila Bosco – dms, perc, keys, Timothy Orr – dms, perc, Patrick Cress – sax, elec)
Set #2: Danny Lubin-Laden
(Danny Lubin-Laden: tbn, Raffi Garabedian-ts, Doug Stuart-b, John Schott-gtr, Tim Bulkley-dms)
Set #3: Nick Obando Quartet (free improvisation)
(Nick Obando-as, Chris Thalmann-dms, Tracy Hui-fretless b, Karl Evangelista-gtr)

Mon 6/24 9:00 PM Pro Arts [150 Frank H Ogawa Plz Oakland]
Tim Rowe/Jordan Glenn & C.j. Boyd

Tuesday, June 25

Tue 6/25 7:30 PM California Jazz Conservatory [2040 Addison Street Berkeley]
Way Out West Concert Series – Jordan Glenn’s BEAK

Tue 6/25 8:00 PM Pro Arts [150 Frank H Ogawa Plz Oakland]
Ratskin Records Nite: CCR Headcleaner, Felidae, Headboggle, Zero Charisma, Malocculsion

Thursday, June 27

Thu 6/27 6:30 PM sfSoundRadio [On the interwebs]
Tune in to sfSoundRadio from 6pm to 9pm to hear tablecore improvisations by Jake Rodriguez, Michael Zelner, and Suki O’Kane. Meticulously designed to accompany rinsing, chopping, sauteing and consuming, radioDinner promotes home-cooked meals throughout the experimental music community.

Thu 6/27 8:00 PM Luggage Store Creative Music Series [1007 Market Street SF]
8:15 pm Skullkrusher
Phillip Everett – electo-percussive noise
9:00 pm Cohen/Allen/Pino
Alex Cohen – guitar, Josh Allen – tenor saxophone, Mark Pino – drums

Friday, June 28

Fri 6/28 7:30 PM Adobe Books [3130 24th St SF]
KREation Ensemble•Prizm•Heule/Fluke-Mogul/Nucci/Robinson

Fri 6/28 8:00 PM Temescal Arts Center [511 48th Street Oakland]
Derek Monypeny/Sahba Sizdahkhani/Kanoko Nishi-Smith + Wobbly at TAC

Anna Webber Interviewed Ahead of Ottawa Jazz Festival Performance

Source: Clinton News Record.

Fans of smart, ambitious, creative music should have the New York City-based Canadian expat Anna Webber on their radar.

Following her studies at McGill University, the Manhattan School of Music and the Jazz Institute Berlin, the B.C.-raised saxophonist, flutist and composer is making ever-increasing waves with her hypermodern music. Among her collaborators are Dave Douglas, John Hollenbeck and Matt Mitchell, all leading artists on jazz’s cutting edge. Webber’s most recent milestone was the release in February of Clockwise, her septet album on Pi Recordings, a record label revered for its heady, trendsetting music.

Magma Summer and Fall Tour Dates

Source: Magma.

26 JUNE 2019 PARIS PHILHARMONIC HALL
2 JULY 2019 LYON FESTIVAL LES NUITS DE FOURVIERE
16 JULY 2019 JUAN LES PINS FESTIVAL JAZZ A JUAN
16 AUGUST 2019 SAINT-NOLFF – MOTOCULTOR FESTIVAL
20 SEPTEMBER 2019 TOKYO – SHIBUYA WWW
21 SEPTEMBER 2019 TOKYO – EX THEATER
22 SEPTEMBER 2019 OSAKA – SANKEI HALL BREEZE
4 OCTOBER 2019 LONDON – ISLINGTON ASSEMBLY HALL
13 OCTOBER 2019 GATESHEAD TUSK FESTIVAL
17 OCTOBER 2019 BERLIN – KESSELHAUS
18 OCTOBER 2019 BRUXELLES – LE 140
19 OCTOBER 2019 FRANKFURT – BATSCHKAPP
31 OCTOBER 2019 STOCKHOLM – FASCHING
1 NOVEMBER 2019 STOCKHOLM – FASCHING
2 NOVEMBER 2019 GOTEBORG – BREWHOUSE
3 NOVEMBER 2019 OSLO – COSMOPOLITE