Muzik | Album | July 1995 | Photo: Matt Bright
Gone are the days when everybody under 40 associated jazz with Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band and little else besides.
Not that Bob would have understood most of the music currently being described as having a jazz influence. From jungle to trip hop to nu electronica, from Alex Reece to DJ Krush to Stasis, this influence can be felt more than heard. It's not so
much a sound as a mood, an experimental edge, and the fact that, while we're talking about essentially instrumental forms of music, there's an attempt to convey something deeper than just cool notes and neat beats.
France, the home of Ludovic Navarre, the man behind the St Germain monicker, is a country with a long and distinguished tradition in jazz. Maybe it's because it reflects the poetic, passionate and complex – often to the point of being downright difficult – nature of the French. Whatever, it all comes back down to depth. And you'll be hard pressed to find anyone quite as deep as Ludovic Navarre. However big your snorkel is. He's even called the opening track of this, his debut album, "Deep In It".
Recorded with the help of a handful of French jazz musicians, "Boulevard" is a glorious tapestry of billowing saxophones, breezy pianos, rolling basslines, crisp percussion and soft house beats. Sometimes sexy, sometimes sad, but almost always soulful. Which is probably why Navarre has been compared to Larry Heard, the original jazzmeister of house, even though Heard is not namechecked with the likes of DJ Pierre, Frankie Knuckles, Todd Terry, Roger Sanchez and Smack Productions on the ultra-chunky "What's New?".
From Chicago to Detroit to New York to Paris. In the context of "Boulevard", it makes damn near perfect sense. But it's not all house music. "Forget It" is bedded in large hip hop beats and "Dub Experience II" is a reggae cut. The latter doesn't particularly work, but the beautifully slo-mo scat calls of "Street Scene" make for more than adequate compensation. Listen carefully and you'll hear snatches of chatter in the background. It would make a great soundcheck to a film set on the pavements of Harlem in the 1950s. Or Chatelet in the 1990s.
Harlem crops up again in the brilliant "Easy To Remember", a track inspired by Malcolm X. The hypnotic groove and the rich voice speaking about the American Muslim leader – "Did you ever talk to Brother Malcom? Did he ever touch you? Did you ever have him smile at you?" – are simultaneously warming and moving. Together with the bluesy, semi-submerged vocals and plaintive wah-wah harmonica of "Thank U Mum (4 Everything You Did)", it suggests that Navarre has a strong empathy with black American culture.
It seems like we are forever being told how this or that dance album will work as well in the comfort of your own front room as it does in the heat of a club. The thing is, that usually means it's not actually a dance album at all. Or that it has a couple of ambient tracks. "Boulevard", however, is different. It's nigh on impossible not to want to move to St Germain's grooves, but the subtleties of the very same cuts also make for a wonderful listening experience.
Physical and cerebral, poetic, passionate and complex, Ludovic Navarre is to music what Eric Cantona is to seagulls following a trawler. Yes, that deep.