To the Europeans, the concept of Acid Jazz seems a lot more natural, though its musical roots are firmly American. The innate flamboyance of the genre resonates with their own careless ways. And since the first wave in the ‘90s, there has been a sort of rediscovery of those lost continental DJs lately – either through new music or re-releases.
My favourite happens to be this guy called Ludovic Navarre – Frenchman, sound engineer and DJ. He claims not to be a musician, but has become the byword in experimental electro-jazz globally. The two of you, who do know him, may step out for some coffee while I explain his genius to the rest.
To the MTV pulp trodden eye, Ludovic Navarre’s only existence has been as St.Germain, his acid jazz pseudonym and studio combine. But he’s been at it since much before St. Germain’s first release, Boulevard, in 1995; hashing up the forgotten (and forgettable) French Traxx EP in 1993 as Sub System, in collusion with another virtuoso DJ and friend, Guy Rabiller.
St Germain, of course, is when he has been at his prolific best. The debut, Boulevard, was a bestseller in the UK, but didn’t tickle American nerves as much – till 2000’s Tourist smashed underground/mainstream barriers and their ears finally pried open. Boulevard was duly re-released.
In between the two commercial albums, Navarre also released an EP titled From Detroit To St.Germain, that again seems to have been lost to the public conscience. Probably because it was released under his own name, and that might’ve been misleading. It didn’t make it any less inventive and interesting.
Anyway, at the core of each of these productions is a moodiness; the coolest cat walking down the darkest alley, stubbing cigarettes because it’s fun. The flexible electronica meets the spontaneity of jazz midway, and they coil around each other to form several layers of music. The basic groove can be overdone and repetitive, but isn’t that life.
Je vous presente The Ludovic Navarre Top 5.
5. Sure Thing (Tourist)
That might or might not be a teenage Jimi Hendrix in the video, but that sure is one the most delectable bass hooks I’ve ever heard, garnished with some John Lee Hooker there. It’s so crisp it doesn’t even feel six-minutes long – except when the guitar samples at the end gets a little disjointed. Gloss over that, please, because you don’t want to ruin a subliminal experience quibbling over an idea.
4. What’s New? (Boulevard)
This one is to get debates started. Acid Jazz, at its earliest, was blamed for recording too much self congratulatory pap and this is another one. Why do I like it? Well, firstly it doesn’t sound very deliberate or serious, as an unidentified voice, with a hash brownie drawl, recounts the who’s who of house music production and labels, set against the most titillating keyboard hook. Edouard Labor does a fine job on the sax too, to be make this one of the few really multi-dimensional numbers from Boulevard.
3. Forget It (Boulevard)
Forget It could be counted as another nearly classic from Boulevard, but it does more. Blessed with a groove infrastructure so ethereal it sounds like from the Gods, Navarre seemed have tread carefully to not distract from the superfluity, except for when Pascal Ohsé gets a free go at his trumpet. He solos into the sunset, before solemn mumblings bid goodbye with a few more squeezes on the pipe.
2. Pont Des Arts (Tourist)
Between then and now, Ludovic Navarre has inculcated transient dance philosophies, which reflected in what became Tourist in 2000. Instead of hampering, it embellished the group’s innate sound; making it the quintessential soundtrack to the citystreet mythology, with its chaotic dance beats layered over with virtuoso keyboard leads. Pont Des Arts is the epitome of that trick and the album.
1. So Flute (Tourist)
The prettiest little ditty on Tourist is the favourite in this corner of the webspace too. The flute, laid in Edouard Labor’s capable hands, transforms into the master of ceremonies, leading track on a pretty damn sensuous odyssey, slowly giving away to a more dominant keyboard jam. In its perky nipping and pinching, it exemplifies why more people are waking up to St.Germain each day.
If you like that, you could listen in to other bands like Rinocerose and Air, who’ve been furthering the ‘French Touch’ sound in Ol’ Ludo’s wake.
Are you in love with acid jazz? Want to OD on some of this sweet, sweet music? We’ll guide you through! A breakdown of the history, dynamics, artist priorities and a whole lot more – in the January issue of Score!