By Phil Johnson
22 November 2002As one of the giants of electronica's prehistoric past, Jean Michel Jarre might be expected to have all the contemporary relevance of a dinosaur, or Rick Wakemen on ice. After all, there's nothing quite as sad as an old futurist whose time never came. Irredeemably stigmatised by the use of his music in early Eighties science documentaries, and since then apparently attracted only by projects involving both fireworks and the population of China, Jarre – whose vision of a clean, compliant, future never quite happened – should probably have retired to a lucrative senescence on his own private island.
Instead, he's made a new, relatively lo-fi album for an independent jazz label. Sessions 2000 (Disques Dreyfus) is pretty good, too, showing that Jarre has lost none of his synthesiser-chops. Certainly, one of the album's most notable characteristics is the way in which real instruments such as acoustic bass, trumpet and National Steel guitar are digitally reworked though sampling to produce very real-sounding effects, as in the opening track's bass solo.
According to the credits, all the music is produced either by Jarre himself or by Francis Rimbert; alternatively, Jarre could just not be telling us who the session-men for Sessions 2000 are.
Essentially, this is Jarre's millennial chill-out album, a form you could argue he more or less invented avant la lettre. As such, it's best when it most fulfils this functional brief, like the down-tempo grooves heard on the third and fourth tracks (all of which bear dates – presumably of composition – as titles). Here, the listener's experience is akin to audio-snorkelling through an ocean of sound, with the music forming a beautiful, Jacques Cousteau-like, panorama of liquid life.
Throughout all the tracks, sundry bleebs, burbles and industrial-gobbets of noise nibble away at one's periphery of hearing, bringing to mind the dirty future of Blade Runner rather than the clean one of "Oxygène". Well done. We await Rick Wakeman's riposte with interest.
Just how colloquial-sounding electronic pop has become since the days of Jarre's more grandiose musical statements can be judged by two other new releases. Nordic Exposure (Quango) comes lumbered with the cumbersome and frankly off-putting subtitle of A Global Journey Into Scandinavian Nu-Jazz, but don't let that deter you; as compilations go, it's a very superior product. The contributions by Royksopp and Koop may already be familiar, but it's the obscure tracks that really impress, such as "Trying" by Nu Spirit Helsinki, and "Kerma Elastica" by the Bobby Hughes Combination.
All the constituent parts mix together well, while the whole thing carries the same excitement one once felt with old Gilles Peterson soul-jazz protégés, Young Disciples.
There's a similar excitement to much of Instant Vintage (Universal/ Island) by Raphael Saadiq, whose past credits as a member of Lucy Pearl and Tony! Toni! Toné! are summarised on the opening track. Using string and horn arrangements that have been recorded on to vinyl and then scratched back into the mix, Saadiq has found a mid-point between Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg, even reusing one of Dr Dre's most famous samples. Whether Jean Michel Jarre would recognise it as electronic music is a moot point, but Saadiq proves that there really is a soul, if not a ghost, in the machine.