St Germain

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St Germain
St Germain

The third studio effort of Ludovic Navarre under the name St Germain is his first in 15 years. In that time he has committed himself to riding out the continental drift from 2000's jazz mash-up Tourist, released on Blue Note Records to wide critical acclaim, in search of fresh land. All the more appropriate that this follow-up for Nonesuch should be self-titled, being something of a reinvention for the French electronic musician and his farthest sonic reach to date.

This album dives headfirst into the very roots of the music that characterized its predecessor, pulling in guest musicians from Mali and Senegal—including kora players Mamadou Cherif Soumano and Cheikh Lo Ouza Diallo, guitarist and n'goni master Guimba Kouyate, and bass player Alioune Wade—for a rewarding fusion of African beats and dancehall aesthetics. Regardless of what this project might sound like on paper, Navarre strays from the expected conventions enough to breed a genuinely self-sustaining hybrid.

“Real Blues” and “How Dare You” get to the heart of what Navarre is doing this time around. Each samples a significant American blues man, the first Lightnin' Hopkins and the second R. L. Burnside, and spins around their archival snippets a wholly new context. In both, Kouyate's slack-jawed guitar proves an organic counterpart to the power of these voices, the combination of which is a far cry from similar experiments attempted by Moby back in 1999. Here the voices don't sound like they are rising from the past but falling from the future, meeting the listener head-on with fearless potency. Navarre plunges these impulses like thirsty roots into the soil to see what might be reaped from their flowering.

For an even realer blues, one need only sit beneath the “Family Tree,” one of three tracks to feature Malian voices. A dulcet piano intro makes way for a complex ecosystem of percussion before Adama Coulibaly's gravelly vocals show us the real meaning of storytelling. Nahawa Doumbia is the center of “Sittin' Here,” which shows off Kouyate's connective tissue to its fullest. The Euro-club beat of this danceable track reveals the album's underlying momentum, while “Voilà,” featuring the lyricism of Fanta Bagayogo, pulls dawn like a rabbit from the top hat of the night. Together, these singers carry forth the musical traditions kept alive in Mandingo hunting ceremonies.

Other than its cultural sensitivity, most remarkable about St Germain is Navarre's brilliant arranging. Whether lighting up the night playfully with a little “Hanky-Panky,” skimming jazzier waters in the synth-heavy “Mary L.,” or spinning the three-dimensional beat tapestries of “Forget Me Not,” he brings out the essence of each song by his artful attention to detail, leaving us with music for world ready to move its feet. - Tyran Grillo

All audio and images ©2015 St Germain

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