They’re watching us. As sure as I sit here typing this, the Googles, the Bings and the Facebooks are mining my every keystroke, my status updates and tweets, the search results and the pages surfed to get a better idea of where the money is.
And it’s not just the web companies. The record labels are in on this action as well. They have to be because if you hadn’t noticed all the underground records which I would have defiantly called classics 10 or 15 years ago are now resurfacing as legitimized classics. It’s as if they knew that the underground, the alternative had suddenly grown up and got jobs — the sort of jobs that allow them to replace their old worn out vinyl records and CDs with remastered versions of the same product. Even if their original records are in pristine condition why wouldn’t they shell out a few dollars to hear all those songs they already love with the bass turned up, producers who’ve matured and been shaped by experience and advancement in audio engineering technology? It works.
I bought in. How could I say no to Sugar’s Copper Blue or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless if only to have the opportunity that I didn’t have upon their initial release — to proclaim my love to an eager audience of new fans who might be my followers or Facebook friends? But then out of the blue something even more wondrous happened and they reintroduced me to a record I had somehow skipped years ago. Simply by adding the ‘Remastered’ label, it occurred to me that this might be something worth remastering.
St. Germain appeared on just about every chillout compilation in my collection. So when I say I ‘skipped it’ I only mean that I never went out and bought any of the french musician’s own 3 records. My need for a chilled groove was met by the versatile arrangements of compilations like Cafe Del Mar or Ultra Chill. The terms acid jazz or jazz-house hadn’t even been coined yet. But as of the release of St. Germain’s third and final full length record, Tourist that all changed. From beginning to end the impeccable arrangements of jazz samples, breakbeats and deep basslines are the craft of a mature artist who found something that worked and played it brilliantly. Like so many records in those days, Tourist was a new and fresh mash-up — even before we coined the term — of styles that breathed youth into an art normally reserved for Sunday afternoon radio shows and sophisticated dinner parties. Suddenly the kids are listening to jazz.
So we’re several years on now and the mixing of disparate genres has become par for the course in electronic music and hip hop. So how does Tourist sound given all the water under the bridge? Even better.
Perhaps it’s because I am listening to it end-to-end for the first time but the flow is masterful. “Rose Rouge”, constructed with a simple looping symbol and jazz piano starts restrained, drops you immediately into a deep groove. Where many modern electronic artists would simply build this into layers ultimately crashing into a techno crescendo, it becomes evident immediately that the club smash is not the end-goal here. There’s a reason this record originally came out on Blue Note Records, graced with the presence of names like Anita Baker and John Coltrane. Ludovic Navarre assembles a horn solo, a gentle and sophisticated jazz jam noodled away on sax and trumpet played out over the same simple rhythm. For seven minutes you’re hearing jazz coaxed gently onto the dance floor, but without ever losing its dignity.
If you weren’t convinced, “Montego Bay Spleen” slow-burns through a barely audible drum and chicken-shake rhythm while electric guitar picking takes the spotlight. This is dotted throughout with spacey electronic pads which are all that remain to remind you this is as much the sound of now as it ever was.
“So Flute” will change your impression of the instrument. It prefers a style you might remember from the Beastie Boys “Sure Shot” over the typical light and long notes. This flute is spat with gusto over a quick-paced hand drum and house beat.
“Land of..” goes a little more gospel in influence but played over a buttery smooth break. Again the horns here are more than simple loops. There’s some genuine artistry here in the remixing of samples from Fred Wesley and the J. B.’s “You Can Have Watergate just Give me Some Bucks and I’ll Be Straight”. It’s worth noting that I had to look that up to see if in fact he’d recorded this with live musicians rather than opting to sample existing material. It’s not easy to tell.
If there’s one song on the album that sounds a little dated, it’s “Pont des Arts”. This one fell flat for me simply because it borrows from the club music tropes that were all over the popular music in the years this was released. The subtle 4/4 stomp offset by a echoing hi-hat, boom-taps its way over a rather boring club bassline. This could be a Lisa Stansfield track without the vocals. The jazz organ does little to lift it out of the stereotype. On a positive note, it serves to remind you just how great the rest of the album is. Every other song plays off the jazz percussion primarily which gives it the timeless quality.
“La Goutte d’Or” introduces us to another deep and infectious groove played off echoing dub sounds before the album finally closes understated on “What You Think About…” which breaks slowly, leaving ample time to turn your walk into a swagger.
Twelve years after it’s first release, Tourist is a record that needs to be reintroduced. I am glad to see music this finely crafted getting a second chance at reaching an audience. And if my consumer choices or comments on other similar bands darted across the wire, got lodged in a logic engine and culminated in an executive decision to select this record, then I’m glad to have played a role. Now go do your part. This record deserves to be shared.