Missed Music

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The Friday Mix: My favorites from New Age pioneer Jean Michel Jarre

Even if you’re not a fan of New Age music, read on for a moment before you bail on this post. Jean Michel Jarre has been making music for 40 years and for most of that time, he’s been at the cutting edge of synthesized and electronic music. His spectacular outdoor concerts draw hundreds of thousands – and on a few notable occasions 1 to 3.5 million – people. In fact, he holds the record for the largest outdoor concerts.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

I have heard his sound imitated everywhere from Rock music to car commercials and every time he releases a new album, I sit down with a pair of headphones to check it out. You may not like New Age music; lots of people don’t. This guy is pretty much the acknowledged master, though, and I’ve been following his career since I was 14 so here’s a sampling of his work.

  1. Arpegiateur – The Concerts in China
    This one was never released in the studio, but this live version is fantastic. Great syncopation built around a cool melody.
  2. March 23rd – Sessions 2000
    This is a very accessible tune. If you like Chillout music, there is nothing too outside about this. Some nice trumpet, cello, and some atmospherics.
  3. Oxygene IV – Oxygene
    This is probably his most famous song, released in 1976. He produced this album in a modest home studio on a small budget. After having some initial trouble even being published, the disc went on to sell over 12 million copies.
  4. Chronologie Part 5 – Chronologie
    I couldn’t decide between this and Part 8 from this album. The first movement of this track is two minutes long, then it kicks in.
  5. Night in Shanghai – The Concerts in China
    When the British embassy gave Radio Beijing copies of a couple Jarre albums, they were the first pieces of foreign music to be played on Chinese national radio in decades. A series of concerts followed, recordings of which were released in 1982. This one is pretty cool.
  6. Equinoxe 2 – Equinoxe
    This one is from the follow-up to his breakthrough album Oxygene. It’s a patient, oozy, ambient tune that highlights his skill at creating an atmosphere.
  7. El Dorado – Images: The Best of Jean Michel Jarre
    Jarre is able to add such color and texture to simple melodies that they’re interesting to hear. The video’s a bit goofy, but then I’m not sure who made it.
  8. Miss Moon – Metamorphoses
    A steady but cool tune. Again, it’s a simple melody but the stuff he adds in production is fantastic and lets it hold up to repeated listens.
  9. Oxygene 11 – Oxygene 7 – 13
    21 years after the release of Oxygene, Jarre released a sequel to the album. The goal was to create a seamless composition of all 13 songs. Amazingly, he succeeded. He used the same instruments and sounds and created a disc that flows perfectly when played after the first album. This is my favorite cut from the newer release.
  10. Fifth Rendezvous (Ron’s Piece) – Rendezvous
    A tragic history to this song. Jarre was invited to play a concert in Houston. He was inspired by the city’s skyline and history of space flight and wanted to integrate it into his show and the album on which he was working at the time. Astronaut Ron McNair had taken a saxophone with him on the Challenger shuttle mission to play this composition during the concert via a live link. Of course, the shuttle exploded and McNair was killed. The concert went as scheduled, but with Kirk Whalum on sax. The song was retitled Ron’s Piece.
  11. Tokyo Kid – Revolutions
    Funky percussion, foggy atmospherics, and occasional muted trumpet make this a great song. Industrial Revolutions off this album is also great, but I could only find live versions and covers on YouTube.
  12. Ethnicolor I – Zoolook
    This is by far his weirdest album, and that’s saying something. Most of the sounds on this disc are modified recordings of human speech and song. There are a few exceptions. Chicago beat poet Laurie Anderson provides vocals on a couple tracks. The bass in the second half of this song is played by King Crimson’s Adrian Belew (though not in this video). Here is an edit of four live versions that sounds remarkably like the studio version.
  13. Magnetic Fields Part III – Magnetic Fields
    This is not my favorite track but it is a good one off my favorite Jarre album. The transition between tracks 2 and 3 (of which you hear the very end in this clip) is actually my favorite, if you ever get a chance to listen. It’s creepy, then uplifting before an abrupt change to this up-tempo synth piece. This is a representative track from the album, though

I pretty much picked one song from each of his albums I own (I believe there are a few I don’t have). There are no Jarre albums on which I like every track, but all the albums have several outstanding songs. Perhaps start with Oxygene or Magnetic Fields if you’re interested in exploring his catalog.

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June 19, 2009 - Posted by | New Age, Uncategorized, World Music

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