Live Review: St Germain, Sadar Bahar, Oisima

14 March 2016 | 7:20 pm | Alfred Gorman

"A chilled-out, blissful, balmy, beachside evening."

It’s been 15 years since French jazz, house maestro Ludovic Navarre aka St Germain graced our shores with his band. Some of the older crowd would have had fond memories of his legendary closing set at Belvoir Amphitheatre for Good Vibrations 2001 – or his second set later that year at Metros. Since then there’s been little heard of him.

Until his surprise, eponymous album of last year which saw him add some African flavours to his existing fusion of sounds, and Saturday saw him bring the album to life with the full eight-piece band. Combined with the stunning location of Port Beach, it was a winning recipe for a wonderful evening.

The large open space had been covered with roll-on turf, with a giant stage at one end, and the sun setting into the ocean to the right. You could even wander down onto the sand. An amazingly picturesque venue, perfect for a night like this. Offworld Productions, did a great job of putting together an interesting and diverse mix of supports too.

Early on, London’s Hugo Mendez of the Sofrito label known for their Tropical Warehouse Parties, kicked things off with some Latin and Afro sounds, before upcoming Sydney neo-soul duo Jones Jnr. brought a more live, funky sound to the table. Vocalist Ev Jones and DJ Morgs of Thundamentals enticed the crowd but numbers were still fairly sparse.

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Adelaide’s Oisimo picked things up with his impressive live MPC thing, glitchy beats and atmospheric sounds, though he struggled to get the masses moving.

Veteran Chicago selector Sadar Bahar didn’t take long to fill the floor front of stage with his infectious mix of disco and rare grooves. While his all-vinyl set featured some rough mixes, his good time selections were on-point.

After a short break, Navarre and his colourful company took the stage. New album opener Real Blues gave us our first taste of the capabilities of his new band. Quite an amazing group of Malian and other West African musicians, they had a distinctly different vibe then his band of old, bringing more swing to the beat. As well as traditional instruments, the brightly dressed group played some more exotic instruments, including the balafon xylophone, the small, skinned, wooden lute-like ngoni and the amazing looking kora – a cross between a harp, banjo and sitar.

The reverb and dubby echo on the twangy strings drifted across the warm night air, as soft, shuffling beats rumbled underneath. Behind the desk at the back, Navarre was in control of it all, and his intention to move forward and focus on the new material is clear.

The timeless classics Rose Rouge and So Flute still drew the biggest cheers from the crowd. The former a surprisingly early highlight – the sax soaked sounds soared over spattering percussion, rushing cymbals and plodding bassline. The latter’s flute driven riff had the smiling crowd moving – there was a great vibe throughout the evening.

At times the subtleties of the intricate music were lost a bit – some more volume in the open expanse would have helped. Jazz and Afro music does have a certain repetitive, trance-like element to its rhythms and you really need to feel it to get in the groove.

The band really shone on new cuts How Dare You and Sittin’ Here taking turns soloing and having a great time - the guitarist was particularly impressive - he had an unorthodox style, but his riffing was incredible.

With a bow and a wave they left the stage, but before long were back for an epic version of Sure Thing. Perhaps it didn’t live up to the legend, but this is the new St Germain, and for a chilled-out, blissful, balmy, beachside evening, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine