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Various Artists: Jazz a Saint Germain

Robert Spencer By

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Jazz A Saint-Germain is designed to evoke the Bohemian atmosphere of Paris during the German occupation. A series of vocalists (including Angelique Kidjo, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dee Dee's daughter China, Deborah Harry, and many more) turn in a series of highly original takes on standard English and French fare; most achieve a smoky, highly-charged feel, but within this obvious goal there is a tremendous variety. China sounds traditionally breathy and mournful on "Lover Man," but on "Les Joyeux Bouchers" Catherine Ringer (with the Renegade Brass Band) is strident. Angelique Kidjo constructs a peculiarly high-tech "Summertime," but presents it marvelously.

Dee Dee's "Watermelon Man" is as funky as it oughta be, but Francoise Hardy shifts gears in a big way by joining up with, you guessed it, Iggy Pop for a sly "I'll Be Seeing You" that is a clear highlight of this eclectic disc. The Jazz Passengers take Deborah Harry back into a jazzier (and quirkier) mode for "Il n'y a plus d' apres." Try to find the "Heart of Glass" girl amid all this! Jacky Terrasson's "La Javanaise" is a characteristically high-gloss, dignified performance, bolstered by an uncredited but engaging rhythm section. Patricia Kaas' "Black Coffee" is rescued from anonymousville by her nervy vocals.

Then comes "God Bless the Child," drained of all its emotional power in a ghastly techno arrangement fronted by Princess Erika. Call me a fogy and bring in Billie, but she ain't here. Les Nubians' "Autour de Minuit" is, by contrast, a thoroughly offbeat but understated and successful take on "Round Midnight" that actually breathes new life into the old tune. Jane Birkin and Jimmy Rowles tread softly through "Those Foolish Things" and hand off to Brigitte Fontaine, whose funky "La Caravane" is suitably oriental-tinged but otherwise undistinguished. Elli Medeiros' "Sophisticated Lady" is a delightfully rakish old girl, and Boris Vian's "J'Suis Snob" is the only real throwback, the only male voice, and one of the most interesting (if interrupted) tracks on an interesting disc.


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