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Magma — Eskähl 2020
(Seventh Records AKT XIX, 2021, 2CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2022-03-14

Eskähl 2020 Cover art

There was a time in my life when I’d never heard the music of Magma. Let’s call that Phase I. This was followed by a period where I’d heard Magma, but didn’t really understand or like the music — Phase II. This was in turn followed by Phase III, where I acknowledged the fact that Magma is one of the most important bands in the history of music. Luckily, Phase III has by far been the longest for me. I suppose there was a preliminary phase where I was too young to pay much attention to music, but that has no bearing on my story. To people who are in their personal Phases I and II, I can imagine that people in Phase III may seem like the members of a cult. And there are probably people who will never progress from Phase II to III. I won’t say I have no use for those people, but I am highly suspect of their musical taste. I have some evidence (anecdotal, to be sure) that seeing Magma live can nudge a person into Phase III. The power of the band when they are on stage is astonishing, and there is no shortage of live recordings to attest to this fact. Add Eskähl 2020 to the corpus — it’s a fine set of recordings from the 2020 tour, the part of it that managed to happen before Covid shut everything down. Shows from Bordeaux, ​Toulouse, and ​Perpignan are represented, and the band is in fine form on many of the usual suspects: “Theusz Hamtaahk,” “Ẁurdah Ïtah,” “Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh,” “Kobaïa,” and “Tröller Tanz,” the first three of which are in edited versions running 16 to 23 minutes long. Normally I would object to truncating these tracks, but I’ve got to admit that they really work this way. After all, most of them have appeared in different versions of different lengths over the decades. The performances are up to the band’s usual high standards, and the recording quality is outstanding. For these shows, Christian Vander was joined by Jimmy Top (bass), Rudy Blas (guitar), Simon Goubert (keyboards), and Thierry Eliez (keyboards), with vocals by Christian Vander, Stella Vander, Hervé Aknin, Isabelle Feuillebois, Laura Guarrato, Sandrine Destefanis, and Sylvie Fisichella. As an added treat, there are two cover tunes in the set: McCoy Tyner’s “For Tomorrow” and Michel Graillier’s “Auroville.” It’s a treat to hear this band, so known for their absolutely distinctive style, tackling someone else’s music, and these two selections emphasize the importance of jazz in their music. That being said, there’s such a stark contrast between Vander’s compositions and these others that it’s a bit jarring. On the whole, however, I love hearing another side of this band, and I would certainly recommend Eskähl 2020 to any fan of Magma. As to the eternal question about whether this would be a good place for a newbie to start, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible to know what Magma music is going to push a given person into Phase III, but this album is as likely as any other to do the trick.

Filed under: New releases, 2021 releases

Related artist(s): Magma, Stella Vander, Christian Vander / Offering, Simon Goubert

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