REVIEW: Magma (Christian Vander) at Cafe Oto

Magma at Cafe Oto with bassist Philippe Bussonet (rt)
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All rights reserved

(Cafe Oto, 26 September 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Magma, the brainchild of French drummer, Christian Vander, is a brooding, darkly iconic force in the prog-rock-jazz fusion zone, which has attracted strong cult following that goes back over forty years. Magma's worldwide Endless Tour stopped off for three sold-out gigs in the tight confines of Cafe Oto, primarily to revisit their archive with the band based around three long-standing members augmented by talented younger musicians to deliver an intense, disciplined set of around ninety minutes, with excellent sound from the venue's system.

Vander is an enigma - a gifted, disciplined percussionist and band leader and admirer of John Coltrane, who emerged from the Paris jazz scene of the early 70s - check out Vander et les 3 Jef on video - to spawn the Magma concept combining an uncompromising hybrid music with an invented mythology and its own hybrid language, Kobaïan. The music gave rise to the genre Zeuhl (meaning 'celestial' in Kobaïan) and continues to impact, notably, on Japanese avante-bands today. It was characterised in Pitchfork by 'massed, chanted choral motifs, martial, repetitive percussion, sudden bursts of explosive improv and just as unexpected lapses into eerie, minimalist trance-rock.' Stella Vander, singer and lifetime partner in music, also had her start in the late 60s in the French pop scene - check out Pourqoui Pas Moi , also on video. Interesting to note that her then husband-to-be was unaware of the French Yé Yé music during his adolescence, according to a lengthy Wire interview (November 2015)!

Because of the nature of their repertoire on the night it is tempting to say that Magma have ploughed the same furrow for forty years and have not moved on - but that was not the case. This was an opportunity for fans and those less familiar with the Magma repertoire to experience at first hand some of the original music on which they built their reputation. There is a dedicated spirit of evolution which motivates Vander and has given rise to various jazz-rock fusions and orchestral-operatic experiments on the way, and at Cafe Oto the inventive talent which he has co-opted also showed that he has never lost his links with the jazz idiom.

Guitarist Rudy Blas added fizzing jazz-rock flourishes with Mahavishnu Orchestra leanings to Magma's quasi-operatic themes with their echoes of Carl Orff, while Benoit Alziary, who is also responsible for some of Magma's orchestral arrangements, built out the core melodies with the neatest of jazz vibes interventions - beautiful playing. Similarly, Jérôme Martineau on electric keyboards and long-term bassist, Philippe Bussonet, let rip at key moments to underscore the power momentum.

Vander kicked in with spells of tightly jazz-fuelled percussive drive and scat, and Stella Vander, in brief flurries of jazz vocalese with pitch-perfect poise, showed what an accomplished singer she is, as did Isabelle Feuillebois as they both took on the demands of Magma's unique libretto, echoing Hervé Aknin's lead vocals straining in the mythic language of Kobaïan. Heady fare, indeed, which Setlist FM confirms included Theusz Hamtaahk, Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh and Zombies.

The operatic ambition that perhaps lies at the heart of Vander's vision for Magma will be given full rein in February 2017 at L'Olympia in Paris, as Stella Vander was keen to let devotees know, when they will have the full Mëtalïk Orkestraah in their tow.

Christian Vander (drums, vocals)
Stella Vander (vocals, percussion)
Isabelle Feuillebois (vocals, percussion)
Hervé Aknin (vocals)
Jérôme Martineau (keyboards)
Benoit Alziary (vibraphone)
Rudy Blas (guitar)
Philippe Bussonnet (bass)


  1. A helpful comment came in from a reader SA. Geoff Winston writes:

    Thanks, SA, for the information that the guitarist on these gigs was Rudy Blas. We have amended the post accordingly. Very sorry to hear of guitarist James McGaw's serious illness - I see that there is a benefit record (his solo album) where all funds raised go to help support him and is available at SEVENTH RECORDS - follow link


  2. Also, please note that Stella Vander is married to Francis Linon, the sound engineer; she has not been married to Christian for decades (thus is not his partner as I understood your text).

  3. Thanks for that clarification Gail. There was indeed an ambiguity in the text - which we have now amended.