Ludovic Navarre’s music has always been a little difficult to pin down. It’s always had a lounge sound that borrows from jazz, tailor made since its inception for late night internet streaming on Dublab or before them, Soma.fm in some forgotten corner of the internet (somebody out there remembers what I’m talking about). It was trip-hop and acid jazz and downtempo and other subgenres of subgenres that overlap so much that it becomes a thing in itself. Navarre’s last two albums, 1995’s Boulevard and 2000’s Tourist, branded his specific voice in time and for the last fifteen years have been memorable enough for his work to be appreciated but frequently referred to in the past tense, until now with the release of his latest self-titled album on the Nonesuch label that seems to pick up exactly where Navarre, aka St. Germain, has left off.
There’s no need here for an old dog to learn new tricks. As though he knew “Sure Thing” off his US debut, Tourist, is indeed the coolest motherfucking song on the planet, his album opener and lead single, “Real Blues”, uses the same formula, with sampling Lightnin’ Hopkins’ mumbles instead of John Lee Hooker’s. Yet this sound synthesizes traditional Malian music with electronic instrumentation and a jazz sensibility for a new sort of compound that reminds us all why this is the guy who can come back after fifteen years like nothing at all has changed.
And what does this say that a sound that can at times feel particularly dated, like it walked fresh out of Atlanta’s Moods Music wearing a fresh kufi and fell asleep for over a dozen years, Rip Van Winkle-style, and nothing seems out of place upon his awakening? Perhaps St. Germain is a timeless sound, or it hits a feeling that never leaves, or maybe our nostalgia for the 90s has swung back around leaving Navarre capturing a perfect moment for a comeback with an album that sounds so much like what he’s done before while still sounding so very new. Navarre’s collaborators — Malian kora players Mamadou Cherif Soumano and Cheikh Lo Ouza Diallo, Malian violinist Zoumana Tereta, Senegalese bass player Alioune Wade (Ismael Lô), to name a few — are the ones delivering the sound that Navarre is masterfully manipulating and conducting, but their essence is crucial here. It’s evocative, centering, relieving, liberating. It has the ability to put one in a good headspace, as St. Germain’s music has always been able to do.
When one makes a pair of albums as iconic as Boulevard and Tourist and then chills out for a decade and a half, a weird vacuum occurs. The absence is felt, then forgotten, but it comes back every now and again. An old song will pop up in a commercial, an astute DJ will drop a jam in the middle of a set which brings the crowd back to memory lane, a fleeting thought comes to mind when one wonders hey, I wonder whatever happened to St. Germain, as if an artist can phase in and out of time along with the production of work. Ludovic Navarre has phased back in for a while with music that’s more than welcome because it sounds so much like him, and he’s been missed.
St. Germain’s new self-titled album is out now on Nonesuch Rcords.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.