Every once in a while a new album will force you to reconfigure and re-evaluate all of the definitions and assumptions one has had about music in order to realize how vast and endless the possibilities of music can be. When it comes to producer and composer Ludovic Navarre it's a case of three albums which have shown the endless possibilities of electronic music and the endless horizons it can and has reached.
There are a very few musicians who have successfully created music that represents a successful and authentic union between styles and genres like his. Navarre, who is best known as St. Germain, has created some of the most fascinating crossover electronic albums ever. The categorization of his records are always an intriguing conundrum. His blend of dreamy and slow paced deep house beats with jazzy overtones and keyboards has paved the way for the now in retrospect popular "French Touch" movement to emerge or subsequent stylistic marriages of jazz and dance beats. His debut is easily one of the best house releases of the '90s. Navarre's production blossomed to full bloom on his second outing. Tourist is one of the most popular electronic releases ever, marrying jazz and blues with Deep House music. Its musical merits and originality has made it a must have record for both club goers and jazz lovers.
It had an immediately recognizable sonic signaturea fluid, translucent viscosity with a crystalline clarity attenuated by the deft deployment of various instruments with beats dropping perfectly into this welcoming, elastic universe conjuring maximum impact from the smallest rhythmic gestures. Tourist is full of unforgettable gems that invites listeners to lose themselves within the motion of the music. After touring the world for three years he disappeared completely from music making until 2015 when he released his third self-titled album.
St. Germain is a bold step ahead. The fact that he could step away from the sounds and genres he has built his legacy upon while exploring and expanding his sonic world is a remarkable feat. Rather than exploiting the approach that made him a household name he went in a different direction where he explored and incorporated the sounds of Malian music to his Deep House sounds.
Again, it's an unequivocally brilliant palette of sounds and styles. Further he employs the talents of various Malian singers and musicians, most notably guitarist Guimba Kouyate. The album took many years to reach the finish line. Every song on St. Germain is accomplished in its own way. They are so expertly arranged by Navarre and each song lives and breathes on its own merits. Hopefully we won't have to wait for another 15 years for his next album.
All About Jazz: You followed the highly acclaimed Tourist (Blue Note, 2001) and the subsequent three year tour with a decade of silence. What was the reason for the protracted time off?
St. Germain: Back then I toured for two and a half years with more than 250 shows at venues or festivals around the world, along with fourteen people on the road. After that I needed to take a break from music. Then I produced an album for the Warner Bros.' jazz department. I produced an album for Soel which was the stage name for Pascal Ohsé, the trumpeter who played on Tourist and was part of the tour. The last show I did was at Les Transmusicales in Pekin, a French festival. The preparation for my next album began in 2006 with the same musicians, very much with the same musical colors as Tourist. As I didn't want to repeat myself, I wiped out everything. It was then that I began researching and exploring African music.
AAJ: The new album took six years to make. Please talk about the creative process behind St. Germain. How did it take the African route it did?
St. Germain: African sonorities excite me and I was feeling like I'm testing a new way for my work. At the beginning I felt that Nigerian Afro Beat and Ghanaian musics were too complicated for my new project. It was then that I shifted my interest on Mali and Touareg music. It was easier to find a traditional Malian community in Paris. For the first time I used recorded voices for an album rather than using sampled ones, which were recorded at a studio in Bamako. I recorded with Doumbia, a renowned singer, and Zoumana Tereta, who plays soku, a small traditional violin. The voices of Adama Coulibaly and Fanta Babayogo were recorded in Paris. My lyrics were translated from French to Malian. But there are two sampled voices of blues singers from America to which I'm very attached tothe voices of Lightin' Hopkins and RL Burnside.
AAJ: The new record is influenced by many things among which the African sounds prevail. What is it about Malian music that compelled you to explore it so deeply in your music?
St. Germain: Malian music sounded the closest to the blues. In the beginning I did a research through the Internet and then I went to Mali. I was discovering the fishermen there who have hypnotic voices. I was looking for the sourcepeople at ceremonies and various family rituals, the hunter healers from Mali. One of these singers is Adama Coulibaly, who sings on "Family Tree."
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.