There are really a handful of artists that are as eclectic as producer/DJ Ludovic Navarre and which have managed to enjoy major chart success. Navarre, better known under the moniker St. Germain, has created a seamless blend of jazz and deep house that captured the imagination of listeners worldwide with the release of the seminal album Tourist.
The album was not just simple electronic music using samples or fusing elements from jazz and marrying them with dance beats, but it was much more as it organically melded innovative and irresistibly addictive song structures and arrangements, with a wealth of house beats, jazz and blues sounds, dub, ambient and soul into an eclectic mix that catapulted it to classic status. It was contemporary music that was and still is a club darling with thousands of DJ still rotating this music from the speakers. It also significantly influenced many jazz/house hybrids that followed suitto this day. With the success of Tourist
there never came a follow up until now, 15 years later. In between then and now, he produced Soel's Memento
(Warner Jazz France, 2003) and then went completely silent. After 15 years under the popular radar, the old conjurer, Navarre or St. Germain is back with a new self-titled album.
Again, Navarre seamlessly blends deep house music with disparate sounds and traditions from various black traditions. The resulting mélange, which is instantly recognizable as uniquely his own, melds together layers of house beats, electronics, African sounds and beats, jazz and old primal blues. It is really a rare occurrence that an electronic music is crafted with so much style and substance as this record. This potent cocktail is so immersive as it features live performances along electronic music and samples. This inspired alchemy and musical collage is evident on the opening track with its melding of slow paced Brazilian rhythms, dub induced spaciousness, various African instruments like ngoni and kora, a swirling blues guitar with voice samples of the blues great Lighnin' Hopkins. The blues guitar and the voice distantly reminds of an older track that St. Germain did on Tourist,
"Sure Thing" with the sampled guitar and the voice of John Lee Hooker. In the end it turns into an endless swirl of sounds and a kaleidoscope of cultural backgrounds.
In stylistic terms, this record does not thread in the same waters as Tourist
nor it repeats its sounds. By his own admission, Navarre has spent his time between this record and the previous avoiding to repeat this successful formula and instead opted for sounds and music that really excited him. In the wake of Tourist
's popularity many went into that direction of mixing electronics and jazz sounds, but eventually ended up recycling existing music (such as electro swing). That is why he roamed the Malian communities in Paris for new and different sounds that he would add to his mix. The diverse musical collage that his music has become known for in the past still forms the basis of much of the material. The recognizable subdued production brings a crystal-clear polish to nearly every element in the mix, whether it's the passionate African vocals or instruments, house beats or jazzy piano. Navarre travels back and forth between genres quite effortlessly and he reaches different and higher sonic plateaus. "Sittin' Here" has a more African feel to it with African chants and distant echoing African styled guitar playing against house beats and ambient keyboards. It is a sparse but soulful ambient house jam.
"Voila" continues this jazzy-African vibe with its cymbals gently crashing in the background and an African guitar is caught in a game with the sounds of the kora. The guitar is pure African blues propelled by a steady house beats over which the sounds of the kora can be heard. As the record progresses, the African elements dominate more and more. House music doesn't sport dynamics such as other electronic music and is mostly slow paced. "Family Tree" exhibits Navarre's love to combine vocal bits and electric guitar with jazzy elements over house drums. Moving onward the pace slows even more. "How Dare You" is a moody, soul searching jazzy track with mellow keyboards. What is evident on these tracks is Navarre's sense of space. Not only he has a great sense of melody, but a deep understanding of how traditional instruments can retain their authenticity, beauty and impact within a setting they were not designed to operate in. Navarre injects personality and charisma into these sounds and avoids them to sound lifeless and soullessly synthetic. The latter songs introduce a more deeply layered sound and swirling kaleidoscopic melodies. Eventually these layers masterfully and smoothly stack into a cohesive but rich sound.
The entire album is bathed in eclectic touches which never fail to maintain an accessible sense of charm and wonder. Deeply it carries a sense of an architectural evolution that started two decades ago. Rarely has electronic music been crafted with as much substance and style as it has on St.Germain's records including this one. Meticulously crafted, the combination of warm live instruments, the catchy house drum loops with ambient keyboards, African sounds and vocals, a plethora of clever musical references and subtle baselines reveals a true craftsmanship in Navarre's production of house music. St. Germain
is a remarkable album of rewarding and organic music.