Rewind: St Germain’s Tourist
St Germain is the self-titled new album from reclusive musician Ludovic Navarre – his first album in 15 years. To commemorate this long-awaited return, we look back at his groundbreaking previous record, Tourist, which help change jazz music forever.
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What is Tourist?
Tourist is the third album of the French DJ and artist Ludovic Navarre (under the moniker St Germain) released through the esteemed Blue Note Records on May 5, 2000.
The album came five years after St Germain’s acclaimed 1995 debut, Boulevard. In the time between, Navarre had seriously considered stopping his career, feeling immediately suffocated by the then-insular electronic music scene and the fame his first album had brought him. His only other release in that period, From Detroit to St Germain, is a compilation of his previous recordings under an outrageous number of names including Deepside, D.S., Soofle, Nuages, St Germain and Ludovic Navarre.
But when Navarre was contacted by the mythic jazz label Blue Note, he realized he could achieve a dream: playing live with musicians and breaking out the walls of his own home, which he was very much confined to as a “house” producer. Arriving at the height of the “French touch” scene, Tourist sold over 4 million records worldwide, forever transforming the concept of easy listening.
What does it sound like?
As a principal pioneer of the well-named downtempo jazz scene, Ludovic Navarre’s style can be described as easy-listening ambient jazz, characterized by downbeat rhythms and obsessive loops that immerse themselves among the sweet, repetitive acoustic and electronic melodies.
As the title suggests, Tourist is something of a journey – a trans-Atlantic air voyage, sonically touching down in France, Jamaica and the United States, among other destinations. But more acutely, the record is an aural tour of Paris.
Playing a tourist in his own town, spicing up Parisian roots with reggae and African vibes, Navarre takes us on a twilight stroll from Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter (“Latin Note”) – famous for its jazz clubs where legends like Miles Davis used to hang out and play – to the river Seine. Crossing over the “Pont des Arts” bridge, he stops to dance to the faint houser beats, admiring a romantic view of the City of Love. Finally, he ends up in the 18th district and the mixed African area (“La Goutte d’Or”) for flutes and forbidden delights.
Whoever hears the enslaved snare drum rhythm of ”Rose Rouge” will forever remember the looped voice of the divine jazz singer Marlena Shaw. Taken from her 1973 Blue Note release, Live in Montreux, the song ”Woman in the Ghetto” has been sampled by several other artists, such as Ghostface Killah on his 2010 track “Ghetto.”
Why should I care?
Firstly, we all owe a debt to artists like St Germain, Truby Trio and Kruder & Dorfmeister. Because of their cool, classy, chic and groovy contributions to “easy listening,” we’re far less menaced by the boring and frequently horrible Muzak organ covers known to pollute countless elevators and hotel lobbies.
Tourist is also the perfect headphones album for your next trip to Paris, or for any travel destination for that matter. And like a good old friend that you meet again, it’s a record you return to with a deep pleasure, a smile and timeless groove. Simply put, it’s an easy to love album for any audience or occasion. If you like trip-hop, jazz, flutes, trumpets, house music or downtempo beats, this record is definitely for you.
Where do I hear more?
As with any deep-digging investigation, going back to the beginning is crucial. Titled after the same street from which he partly takes his stage name – Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris – Navarre’s more dance-oriented first album, Boulevard, is a classic in its own right. Widely acclaimed by the British press as one of the best albums of 1995 , St Germain was even nominated at the International Dance Music Awards, alongside Michael Jackson no less. An absolute essential for many aficionados, Boulevard stunned both the electronic scene and the jazz world with its unique fusion of genres and stylings.
That same year, legendary DJ Todd Edward opened St Germain to the international dance floor with his remix of “Alabama Blues,” which is regarded today as a classic of house music. Edwards’ own fame would come a little later when he collaborated with Daft Punk on their Discovery track ”Face To Face,” which he co-produced and performed vocals on.
Carrying the baton from St Germain, nu-jazz artists like Madlib, 4 Hero and Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra went on to further jazz-electronic experimentation. Adding ghostly rhythms, various vocal styles and destroying genre barriers in their wake, they and their contemporaries have cultivated new perspectives for the jazz of today and tomorrow. The classic compilation Blue Note Revisited, featuring Madlib, J Dilla, 4 Hero and many others, is an excellent introduction to nu-jazz and downtempo at its best.
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