Wednesday 9th November
Albert Hall Manchester
Words by Andrew Kemp
For context, the unthinkable prospect of President Trump had just become a cold, hard reality and, like most of the reasonably sound-minded population, my spirits weren’t at their highest; sometimes it can be hard to shake off the weight of the day’s events, and after something as humanly catastrophic as sending a manifestation of mankind’s worst traits to the top seat of world politics, you could understand if the mood heading into a globally-aware music event was a little sour.
Music, though, can be a perfect source of escapism, and that is exactly what it proved to be as French producer St Germain brought his full live band to Manchester’s beautiful Albert Hall. Fronted by an abundance of extraordinary musicians, Ludovic Navarre’s St Germain project proved as deeply soulful and emotionally rich live as it does on record, enthralling and inspiring in equal measure. Choosing to rely upon his compositions to communicate with his audience, Navarre remained in the shadows as his charismatic comrades added their own personalities to extended jams of material from all three St Germain albums, glossing the seismic jazz and woodwind house with unmistakable energy and verve.
(Photo: Jack Kirwin)
Striking the right balance between live musicians and dancefloor electronics has proven a difficult endeavour, but with Navarre cutting a subtle figure at the back of the stage there was no ego, no pretence. Instead, what resulted was a combination of Highlife-inspired dance music with an acoustic core, assisted but not overpowered by the soft pads, vocal samples and bass grooves that Navarre and his accomplice on keys laid down. Whether the distinctive sampled hooks of Marlena Shaw on “Rose Rouge”, the almost vocal chord resonance of bass grooves like that of “Thank U Mum (4 Everything You Did)” or the floating pads of encore closer “Sure Thing”, St Germain has always been defined by a soulfulness that extends beyond any individual component, derived instead from the perfect harmony of constituent parts. Reflected perfectly by the chosen cast, between them offering markers of homelands in Mali, Senegal, Martinique and further afield, this sense of separate yet unified ideas was enhanced even further, the crowd instinctively echoing the beaming smiles, synchronised steps and evident admiration shared by the band.
(Photo: Jack Kirwin)
Virtuoso solos like the opening melodies of the name lending woodwind in “So Flute” elicited lovingly spluttered outbursts of euphoria, whilst the beyond belief speed of the percussionist’s hand-drummed interval drew every bit of the rapturous applause it deserved. But the beauty of the show was the seemingly effortless ease with which myriads of complex melodies became simple, blending together as if performed by a single hand rather than over a dozen. Partially improvised sequences like the prelude of opener “Real Blues” would give way suddenly to fully cohesive grooves, the artists suddenly locking in like they’d never strayed, and with such impressive ability being matched by such unmistakable passion, there was never a question of the message being obscured in the high arches of the Albert Hall. A packed floor and a busy stage moved as one, the connection between the music and its audience palpable.
When there’s reason to ponder how people have become so afraid of that ‘other’ that has ghosted through 2016, tangible only in the tension and mistrust that its conception has caused, there are few better ways to remind yourself of all that is good than by surrounding yourself with a mass of dancing strangers. For the wonderfully mixed group of people who joined me in Albert Hall to do just that, Ludovic Navarre and his St Germain band may well have been the perfect therapy for those post-politics blues.
Words by Andrew Kemp
Photos courtesy of Jack Kirwin
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