St. Germain's Brilliant New Album: A Triumph of Synergy

st-germainIt’s been 15 years since St. Germain’s last release, Tourist, which featured the late John Lee Hooker, among others. And the coolest new album I’ve gotten in a while is called St. Germain, the name Ludovic Navarre goes by.

In winespeak, here are my tasting notes, written during two complete auditions — something I rarely do or even have time for.

Track 1: “Real Blues”: Malian modal groove meets roots blues hollers by Robert Shack. Mali is where the blues comes from. Live percussion, no cheap synth patches. Balafon (west African marimba), kora, great production alchemy. So much movement and drive. Will some modern dance choreographer please check out this new record?

Track 2: “Sittin’ Here”: Totally cool. Nahawa Doumbia, great Malian singer. Nothing sounds synthetic, sampled, or contrived. Tasteful use of keyboards, blending this most-European of instruments seamlessly into the mix. Urgency of Malian vocals. Great guitar work to boot.

Track 3: “Hanky Panky”: Acoustic piano adds nice delicate touch. A real piano too, not a midi patch.

Track 4: “Voila”: Guitar played by African musician sounds different and I like it. Live percussion, thank you St. Germain, this adds so much. Fanta Bagayogo on vocals… any relation to Issa?

Track 5: “Family Tree”: Again nice acoustic piano intro. Nice variety of sound. Like the afro Cuban clav√©. The piano anchors the Malian vocals with sophisticated block chords. Sophisticated music, smooth and groovy.

Track 6: “How Dare You”: Love the calabash gourd, which is played with a ring on the finger to get the penetrating sound. Harmonica harkens back to the blues. The Mandeng violin, the soku, adds a nice tough. This reminds me of the John Lee Hooker cut from the last album so long ago. A little bit into the cut we get a great propulsive groove. Try not to dance!

urlTrack 7: “Mary L”: Wow!!! acoustic and Fender Rhodes, lots of ambiance, deep bass, blues hollers, 2 ngonis (did you know it’s the ancestor of the banjo?), the kamele ngoni, a smaller kora, is nice too.

Track 8: “Forget Me Not” love the mix of the 21 string West African harp-lute, the kora, with the smaller kamele ngoni, live percussion and keyboards.

What more can I say? Only a brilliant, creative musical mind like St. Germain can combine blues hollers, West African classical instruments, Malian singers and European flourishes into such a harmonious and synergistic whole. It all is so organic and seamless. It’s been a long time since his his last album, and it’s worth the wait. I can’t recommend this album highly enough.

Here is Nonesuch’s promo video which includes the first cut, “Real Blues.”