Theusz Hamtaakh: La Trilogie au Trianon [DVD]

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In May 2000, Magma composer/drummer/conceptor Christian Vander celebrated the 30th anniversary of his band with a two-day extravaganza. A slightly revamped version of the lineup that had been touring since 1996 (now including singer Antoine Paganotti, son of onetime Magma bassist Bernard Paganotti) performed on two consecutive evenings Vander's magnum opus, the "Theusz Hamtaahk" Trilogy, consisting of three 45-plus-minute suites: "Theusz Hamtaahk," "Wurdah Ïtah," and "Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh." Written in the early '70s, this cycle defined Magma's sound, even though it was only partially released at the time (the first movement became available much later). Drawing from Richard Wagner's epic music and John Coltrane's cosmic jazz, Vander was highly destabilizing then, evoking war chants in an alien yet German-sounding language and the aftermath of an apocalypse whipped up into ecstasy. The 2000 performance is different, somewhat softer-sounding and more yearning, mostly because Vander put together a big vocal section (three male and three female singers in "Theusz Hamtaahk" and "MDK"), which emphasizes the operatic aspect of the works while bridging gaps between Magma and his later project, Offering. The performance is stellar, riveting, and a bit overwhelming (newcomers to this group are advised to listen/watch the works separately). Vander has always given his pieces the same respect and approach a classical composer would, so these renditions are scrupulously accurate, except for some new vocal arrangements. "Theusz Hamtaahk" is performed with six singers, guitar (James MacGaw), bass (Philippe Bussonnet, heard loud and clear and as dangerous as Jannick Top used to be), keyboard (Emmanuel Borghi) and -- of course -- drums. "Wurdah Ïtah" employs a scaled-down lineup, with only four singers and minus the guitar. For "MDK," the full band is back and augmented by a four-piece horn section. The piece also includes an instrumental quartet break highlighting MacGaw and Bussonnet's virtuosity. The CD box set presents each piece on a separate CD and includes a booklet with all the lyrics in Kobaïan. The DVD offers a good mix in Dolby Digital 2.0, professional editing of numerous (at least four, including on-stage) cameras, and plenty of close-up shots of Vander towering over his small jazz kit, literally in trance. The DVD also includes the 20-minute documentary "Les Combattants de la Zeuhl Wortz K.," a collage of tributes, anecdotes and anniversary wishes from two dozens ex-members of Magma (all in French, it was shown before the Trianon concerts). This is the only time that the whole "Trilogie" has been made available in a single set. It is a must-have for fans and probably the most stunning place for a newcomer to start. The same lineup (minus one singer) would also appear on the 2004 CD Kohntarkosz Anteria.