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Various Artists: Jazz a Saint Germain

Taking its inspiration from the avant garde spirit of the Paris existentialist underground of the ’40s and ’50s, it’s no wonder that Jazz a Saint Germain (Higher Octave Jazz HOJCD 45262; 54:02) is one of the most adventurous, challenging, and enjoyable collections to come along in quite some time. To say that the artists and arrangements are unique would be a serious understatement. From Angelique Kidjo’s awesome minimalist take on “Summertime,” punctuated by Afro-percussive vocal harmonies, to Princess Erika’s wild and free urban beat-box reggae rework of “God Bless the Child,” Saint Germain boasts surprises in every dark corner. A rootsy, acoustic-styled read of “I’ll Be Seeing You” finds punk king Iggy Pop’s creepy baritone meeting the thick, heavily accented tones of French chanteuse Francoise Hardy in a haunting duo, for example, and Dee Dee Bridgewater delivers a swamped-up funky soul read of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” which is indescribably elemental and sensual. The album is filled with dissonance and emotional turbulence in tracks like Patricia Kaas’ purring, sensual take on “Black Coffee,” effectively capturing the wild abandon inherent in a classic torch song. Simone de Beauvoir would be proud!

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