Tourist or Terrorist

Ludovic Navarre’s new album as St. Germain, Tourist, doesn’t get around the DJ conundrum of how to package underground sounds without losing the (often subversive) message of cultural expression in the process. This recording has near-genius production standards, original musical performances (it contains a full band, including live horns, guitars and percussion) and absolute dance-mixability. Still, Tourist exists in the ambiguous space of cosmopolitan privilege between a dozen or so genres, all of them located somewhere other than Paris.

In “Rose Rouge” (which was dropped in sets from Motor to Temple this summer) Navarre creates the sound of a soul-revival over a tight drum-loop by mixing in a voice that intones, with quiet intensity, “Put your hands together one time.”

Later, in “Sure Thing,” Navarre samples Detroit’s own John Lee Hooker, lifting the aging blues artist’s distinctive “moaning and groaning” as background to a housey hip-hop groove that vamps its way onto the record’s second side.

Whether it’s “Montego Bay Spleen,” where Navarre builds a new funk-jazz feel out of a serious dub plate special, or “Land of …,” where he reconstructs the organ sounds of a storefront church only to end up back in a dub-like landscape, Tourist is an album of subtle geographic shifts. Within the shifts, the beat gently but insistently meanders from one soulful space to another. But the question remains: Who is allowed to make these journeys and to what end, especially more than 40 years after Chess’ golden age, or even 25 years after King Tubby’s?

Though St. Germain’s street-cred is secure (first album, Boulevard, an underground dance classic, limited EPs follow, “prestigious” Blue Note label wants him, etc., etc.), his new millennium cosmopolitanism, while breathtaking, still doesn’t feel quite right. Was the blues this easy to package in the day? Was dub invented to be a sound track to someone’s late-night Babylon? The answer, as always, depends on where you dance.

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