Jaz Coleman – “Magna Invocatio: A Gnostic Mass for Choir and Orchestra Inspired by the Sublime Music of Killing Joke”
Yes, that’s a long arsed, complex and possible pretentious title. Which is apt, given the album…
At the front of Killing Joke, Jaz Coleman’s talent is undeniable. But, he is also an actor, vocalist, geometrist and occult historian. Add to this that he has a significant reputation as a classical composer and conductor and you have an abundantly talented mammal.
This album (I’m not typing that again) is pretty weighty, containing 13 tracks that have a combined duration of 1 hour and 26 minutes. Each song was selected by Jaz, as they had some form of occult importance in his life.
“I wanted to revisit not just a succession of epiphanies that transformed my own life,” explains Coleman, “But also to portray some of the more hidden or occulted milestones of the human race that have captured my imagination for some four decades. So I specifically chose an unusual combination of sacred texts that I discovered at different stages throughout my life. The only possible connection between them was that they had the immediate effect of inflaming and lifting my spirits to another level. They are, to coin a phrase, Words of Power!”
Coleman teamed up with the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which is Russia’s oldest orchestra.
Unlike other albums of this sort, this isn’t an orchestra playing along with the band in some form. The tracks have been re-scored and re-imaged. There’s no distortion or electronics, just orchestral instruments and choral augmentations.
“Absolute Descent of Light – Magna Invocatio Choral Fanfare” opened with a deep, strong note. This was joined by a choir and it served as a herald for what was to come. It was grand and ancient church-like.
“The Raven King” flew in soft and slow. It was soothing, clam and beautiful. The track swelled from time to time, adding intensity. It reminded me of a spring day in a forest. It was easy to get lost in the music. It’s nature was unhurried, letting the sound unfold over time.
“Intravenous” injected more instrumental infection, in a calm and understated manner. Then, it swaggered off with a new life, with many instruments used to surface, then scurry away. It reminded me of a movie from a long time ago, where people were shrunk and put inside someone’s body to fight a disease. Weird, hey? It morphed and shifted, growing and shrinking in sound. A choir was used to add drama to an already significant sound.
“You’ll Never Get to Me” got me with its baroque style. It evoked feelings of hope, sadness and poignancy. It also left me feeling resolute. The track slowed and softened towards the end. It was gorgeous in its scope and scale.
“Absent Friends” presented a repetitive arrangement that had me thinking of our busy lives. This track had a more reflective air. It had me reflecting on the people that I had lost and those with which I had lost contact. A bass heartbeat added an organic element. This track was tragically beautiful and it stabbed me in the heart a bit.
“Invocation” summoned a jaunty tempo that sounded like an invocation. It was syncopated, but then it flourished. It reminded me of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” – travelling somewhere by elephant, then being in a primitive and dark ritual. No, I’m not crazy. The track went through a number of mood shifts, but there was a key beat that anchored the track.
“In Cythera”. With its larger than life adagio (slow tempo), I don’t have the words to convey the sharp magnificence of this track. It was warm, relaxed and stunningly encapsulating. If all classical music was like this, it would be everywhere… It was long, repetitive and worth every second.
“Big Buzz” made a beeline to my soul with a thicker, fuller sound, whilst retaining the inherent beauty of the other tracks. There were some elements that anchored every track, but in this case they breed comfort and connection, rather than contempt. More instruments are used on this track and the simple harp driven ending was terrific.
“Adorations” began with a different sound that lost me a bit, but it soon settled and found its groove. It had a different feel and character that had me wondering if this was about adoration or obsession. At this point, I was getting a bit lost, as the tracks had started to bleed into each other. Either that or I was going into a diabetic coma…
“Into the Unknown” was the cleanse that I needed, as it was frantically paced and urgent. The track stopped a few times and then kicked back off. The title is apt, as I was reminded of a weighty journey. Instruments were used to mimic animal sounds and there was a subtle tribal influence. A sublime strings arrangement was utilised and then choirs heralded the culmination of the journey, or the arrival at somewhere significant. The track then galloped forth again, before fading at the end.
“Euphoria” had a somewhat busy and grating opening. It soon settled and then felt like euphoria, like positivity and joy, of being calm and uplifted. Then… there was silence and a monumental slow down, before a quiet ending.
“Honour the Fire” was quiet and soul salving. It was understated and moving and it had me feeling like I was watching a documentary about the ocean. Halfway through it swelled for a bit, before settling back down again.
“Magna Invocatio (Gloria)” served as a fitting end to the album. It expertly drew the choral and instrumental elements together and it shifted in pace and character. It was an emotional journey, just like the album. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was grandiose and complex, leaving me with a firm reminder of the character of this album.
This was an enjoyable and powerful listening experience. I often found myself retreating into my head, revisiting old friends, reliving reveries and being stung by sharp pangs of regret. Many times I was euphoric, often I felt melancholy, but mostly I was wrapped in a sense of wonder. We are on holidays on the Gold Coast and I found myself aimlessly wandering the unit, looking at the beach etc., lost in the musical experience.
I often struggled to write something about a track. I lacked the words to do this work justice. It was like explaining a tree to someone who had never seen one.
I am no classical music expert and I honestly know little about it. But this didn’t feel like classical music. Coleman is an architect and on this album he has been an architect of sound – to say that he brings a unique perspective is an understatement. I am keen to share this album with someone smarter than I about classical music to hear their take on it.
The power of this music was that the absence of vocals, combined with what the orchestra can supply in terms of sound, augmented by the long nature of the tracks that allow them to build abundant atmosphere, allows your mind to wander and run rampant. It’s both reflective and relaxing.
I was tempted to use the word “grandiloquent” – pompous or extravagant in language, style or manner, especially in a way that is intended to impress. Certainly, there’s a little of that in this album, but I don’t see it as attention seeking – it’s just that Coleman has created something so very powerful and different.
However, even given the lucent and majestic nature of the music, I got lost towards the end. I will concede that with ongoing listens I may get over this feeling.