15 years is a long time for any artist to make a comeback, and Ludovic Navarre did it in spectacular fashion with the self-titled LP he released at the end of last year. There was much speculation on the direction he would take, whether it would be similar to the jazzy lounge house stylings of Tourist or Boulevard, or a new direction entirely. What he delivered was a masterpiece in marrying western sampling techniques and electronic music structure with traditional African instrumentation such as the balafon, kora and n’gongi.
Somerset House served its purpose as a flawless venue for Navarre to bring his new band to the UK for their debut live show. The array of crisp and punchy speakers sounded good all the way back to the bar, and the historical setting of Somerset House boxed in the crowd, allowing the venue to boost the sound to thoroughly enjoyable levels; a rare trait for an outdoor space in London. The attendees were noticeably mixed, with the younger generation of fans coming out to see their hero for the first time, and the older crowd patiently poised at the back, watching proceedings from afar. It didn’t take long for St Germain to pump some energy into the legs of the old timers in attendance though, with a extended introduction of ‘Real Blues’ followed by his most most famous work ‘Rose Rouge’.
Despite the band being called St. Germain’, Navarre clearly understood that his musicians were the main visual performance aspect, so he took a more secluded spot at the back, controlling samples and the driving bass grooves from his mixing desk. This groove based approach to the gig gave the band a chance to really display their virtuosity and mastery over each of their respective instruments, meaning that the entire gig felt like one big studio session, with no real structure or order to who played what solo when. Of course, Navarre was orchestrating them from the back, but the hallmark of his music is a very loose take on dance music, he let the band do their thing and it made for a real spectacle at points. After the group had performed ‘Family Tree’, drummer Jorge Bezerra played a five minute accapella conga solo which had the audience in raptures. This was one highlight amongst a multitude of moments of genius. There were too many to list here, even from a 90 minute set.
The tour St Germain is currently on is to promote the new album, but of course they had to include some of his classic material aside from the dubby house grooves that permeated the rest of the set. Tracks on Tourist were given a new lease of life by Navarre’s African band, with each musician taking a turn to add their own mark on the track which St. Germain was laying down at the back. ‘So Flute’ and the encore ‘Sure Thing’, both lasted well over ten minutes, giving his band lots of chances to cup their ears to the crowd, do synchronised dances and hand clapping. They were clearly having loads of fun, and it was a testament to their energy that even the stiffest looking members of the audience were coaxed into a boogie. This was the old school St Germain with a new school twist, all the sensibilities of western jazz and dance music, with the rhythm and soul of Africa; it’s a potent mix, and one which gives St. Germain’s performance so much depth in texture, longevity through the decades, and such an appeal a wide ranging audience.