Ludovic Navarre of St. Germain may be the current electronica-jazz darling, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's the most innovative. No slight to St. Germain's intoxicating mesh of bop and deep-house music, but with the mesmerizing Bodily Functions, classically trained pianist, composer and producer Matthew Herbert pushes the boundaries of organic dance music to its farthest reaches by sampling bodily functions such as people cracking their knees and necks, women in labor, digestive swallows and blood running through veins. If that novel idea is a testament to Herbert's avant-gardish tendencies, his beguiling arrangements betray his off-kilter compositional style.
An alluring kaleidoscope of bass clarinets, strings, bassoons, acoustic bass and piano buttresses Herbert's ghoulish sample palette. From the hushed opener, "You're Unknown to Me," where Dani Sicillano's sensual voice wafts gently across a soundscape of droning keyboard swirls, violins, clarinets and haunting percussive effects sampled from the birthing process, it's evident that Herbert is trying to elevate house music to high art. And for the most part, he achieves it. Even when the requisite four-on-the-floor rhythm begins pulsating underneath his evocative arrangements, Bodily Functions leans closer to Caetano Veloso and Arto Lindsay than house-music producers Masters at Work or Blaze. Even the brainiest conventional house producer wouldn't come up with something as wickedly infectious as "You Saw It All," where Luca Santucci sings of losing the sense of sight against eerie samples taken from laser-eye surgery. And when the disc slides into the contemplative "The Last Beat" and "About This Time Each Day," Herbert abandons dance music altogether in favor of autumnal ballads that wouldn't sound out of place on a Paul Bley album.
Bodily Functions isn't the catchiest house CD. For an impatient club kid, Herbert's soft-hued textures and evocative arrangements may be a bit too languid; but for any fan willing to abandon all preconceived notions of house music, Bodily Functions will probably be one of the most transportive, utterly bewitching album they'll hear.