St Germain is BACK with a refreshingly creative project!

Ludovic Navarre, aka St Germain’s first album in 15 years is an exciting interweaving of downtempo electronic and deep house, jazz, folk, African, world, & country music.

St Germain is perhaps best-known for his downtempo singles, “So Flute” and “Rose Rouge” from his Tourist LP from 2000.  I confess, when I read that the artist was releasing his first album in over a decade I was skeptical whether or not his best years were behind him. Thankfully, Navarre quickly dispelled my doubts as soon as I tuned in to the opening track.

Here are “So Flute…”

…and “Rose Rouge.”

For the album’s promotion, St Germain commissioned Urban Art creator Gregos, known for his smiling and frowning faces stuck on walls throughout Paris and Europe, to create a series of masks painted with the flags of the nations of the world. Navarre then traveled the globe covertly installing the masks in public spaces. His website features a map with mask markers indicating in which countries they have been found. Sending his listeners on a global treasure hunt, those who find the mask for their country receive the double LP for free.

Artists take note – This brilliant, heady music and the creator’s unique promotional project are precisely the stuff that will make an album successful in the digital age.

Check out video for the first single which includes footage of the mask installations below.

UPDATE: Delighted to find that my local indie record shop had a copy in stock!

Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

A Journey into Electro-Jazz, Future Jazz, and Dark Jazz

A week ago, I finally started listening to my archive of the first 154 releases on the legendary Ninja Tune label.  From the early 90s forward, nearly every artist with a progressive electronic sound and a touch of jazzy flare was on Ninja Tune.  

I was already a fan of the big names in Future Jazz like Jaga Jazzist, Bonobo, Funki Porcini and St Germain.  The first LP I bought after being bitten by the electro-jazz bug was St Germain’s classic Tourist album on Blue Note Records.

Here’s “Rose Rouge,” a classic example of electro-jazz.

That album instantly reminded me of LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards double LP (released in ’00 – the same year as Tourist) so I picked up a 94-disc archive of Intelligent D’n’B records, including Bukem’s Good Looking Records label, the Earth series, and several  others.  

My favorite album from that new selection was Big Bud’s Late Night Blues, which I’ll be ordering on vinyl soon.

But as I continuted to research the Future Jazz genre, a few artists clearly stood out from the crowd.  

From Hidden Orchestra’s official profile:

Hidden Orchestra combines two live drummers and deep basslines with strong jazz and classical influences, to make cinematic, emotive, percussive, next generation music using traditional instrumentation and organic samples.

I was similarly entranced by the stripped-down rhythmic and melodic jazz loops of The Cinematic Orchestra, particularly their earlier LPs, Motion (1999) and Remixes 98-2000 (2000).

For example, listen to “Channel 1 Suite” from Motion. (A possible nod to Buddy Rich?)

Or for a taste of electronic free-jazz from the very same LP, “Blue Birds.”

And from the album, Everyday – the slow and bassy “Burn Out.”

That’s when I hit the brick wall of harsh reality surrounding the family of Future Jazz LPs –

They cost a small fortune.

What I soon learned was that Ninja Tune is a small, independent label and they pressed very limited numbers of these fantastic albums in the 90s and early 2000s.  As such, many of these discs command $50 – $150 per album if you want the real thing.

And I wanted the real thing.

But two days of searching yielded the most wonderful discovery I could have ever asked for.  There is a site called BeatDelete.com.  Think of them as a Kickstarter for all your favorite, out-of-print records.

Ninja Tune was offering all their greatest albums from the 90s to be pre-ordered for reissue on BeatDelete.  100 orders locked in the re-pressing, and then they’d take it off the site.

I couldn’t throw money at the monitor fast enough.

I locked in pre-orders for two of my favorite Cinematic Orchestra double LPs and tracked down an original copy of Remixes 98-2000 from a private seller who also had a mint copy of DJ Food’s Kaleidoscope (another of my new-found favorites from the Ninja Tune archive.)

Kaleidoscope is the magic album I hinted at in my last entry.  DJ Food samples both the Del Close & John Brent How To Speak Hip LP from ’59 and features the smokey vocal legend of the 50s and 60s – Ken Nordine.  

And that jazzy upright bass plucking you hear is Benny Golson’s “Wink” from ’67.

The “thinking man’s” track he’s introducing at the end of “Ageing Young Rebel” is the reason I had to buy this record.  Here it is – “The Crow.”

And then, I discovered darkjazz.  Call it what you will – darkjazz, doomjazz, noir jazz, funeral jazz… It’s magnificent stuff.

From last.fm:

Dark jazz is a form of modern jazz characterized by the fusion of downtempo, minimalist ambient music with jazz. The term is often used interchangeably with doom jazz, and is comparable in feel and mood to dark ambient music.

There are approximately 100 contemporary artists which fall into the category of darkjazz, but there are three names among them that you need to know: Bohren und der Club of Gore, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation and their other half – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble.

For those who understand silence to be the most beautiful song the in the world, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s 2011 LP, From the Stairwell will take your breath away.

Almost literally, in fact – as I found myself holding my breath throughout my entire first listen, perhaps from fear that my breathing might interfere with the hauntingly fragile sounds coming from my studio monitors.  The album is full of half-audible frequencies – whisper-soft percussive tones, electronic sounds who’s source the listener can scarcely place, and gently-played fragments of jazz solos which vanish as subtly as the appear.

From the Stairwell is a contender which could challenge Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way for the quietest album ever recorded.

And if The Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion is an evening in a smoke-filled jazz club, then From a Stairwell is the intoxicated alley-walk home when the night is through.

In the age of the loudness war, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is a beacon of hope that delicate and well-produced records will survive the millennium.

Here is Kilimanjaro’s “Cocaine.”