Ludovic Navarre, popularly known by his stage name St Germain, first turned heads with his debut album, Boulevard, back in 1995. The album’s notable fusions of nu-jazz and house elements established early on Navarre’s innate ability for stylistic crossover and effortlessly smooth productions. However, it was with his second album release, the multi-platinum selling Tourist, which affirmed Navarre’s spot as a top tier act. Despite his relatively sparse output, St Germain can claim ownership of some of the most distinctive music released over the past twenty years, with classics such as ‘Rose Rouge’, ‘So Flute’, and ‘Sure Thing’ to his name.
His latest LP arrives no less than fifteen years since Tourist. The eponymously titled studio album, St Germain, may be the least iconic of the three he’s produced, but this isn’t to say that the album isn’t full of rich and substantial content. The album is full of colourful riffs and rhythms thanks to the featured band musicians, hailing from Mali, Senegal, Guadalupe, and Brazil.
As part of Navarre’s album tour, St Germain came to play a London-exclusive show at the Troxy. The timing of Navarre’s arrival into London could not have been more poignant. Before the band commenced their performance a minute of silence was observed for the recent tragedy in Paris; it would be tonight, especially, that people would dance and celebrate together for the collective cause of peace and unity.
The band opened with a couple of numbers from the new album: ‘Forget Me Not’, a shimmering down tempo track that’s even more spellbinding when watching the kora player improvise live. This was followed by the album’s single, ‘Real Blues’, which warmed things up with its pulsating chords and shuffling percussion. The band swayed in unison to the lightly skipping beat, and it became clear very early on how tight the ensemble was.
It wasn’t long before the band jumped straight into Navarre’s signature tune, ‘Rose Rouge’ (taken from ‘Tourist’). As the infectious drum riff rolled out into the auditorium, the crowd roared, with the saxophone player laying down virtuosic runs over the top. Live drum grooves and embellishments from the guitar and n’goni helped hold down the tension before the arrival of a pounding kick brought the whole audience alive.
Perhaps the show’s climax was reached when ‘So Flute’s distinctive flute riff cut through. Shortly after the flute’s centre-stage solo unfolded, Afro-Latin drums and percussion, bass and piano entered into the mix; when it all dropped the crowd went absolutely crazy. There was a part of me that was quietly hoping for Navarre to play some of his older material, and this was joyfully met by a number of selections from Tourist. The balance between some of his classic numbers and new material was good, though I think I can speak on behalf of everyone there that night, that it all ended far too soon.
Navarre’s music really came alive through the virtuosic handling from the musicians, who spun out impressive solos and fills throughout the gig with a looseness and fluidity that you can only really find in world-class performers. Navarre, shy but responsive, was positioned quietly at the back in the booth, initiating tracks and vocal lines – perhaps one (and possibly the only) flaw of the performance was the unfortunate lack of live singers.
Nonetheless the ecstatic performance was met by an up-for-it crowd, populated by a great mix of people – mature 40+ attendees, suits, as well as younger generations who know him more for his more house-oriented classics; all were happy to clap along and even in the seated area upstairs people were dancing.
St Germain may not be his best work, but it is undeniable how entertaining and listenable it is in a live setting. The musicians’ showmanship coupled with the atmosphere created something really quite special. During the gig there was such a hugely positive energy flowing through the room it was often difficult not to smile and dance.