"I respect critics' opinions,"
insists Lourau, winner of this year's jazz trophy at the "Victoires de la Musique"
awards. "I mean, I carry on reading their articles in specialist magazines every month. But their opinions are not going to stop me playing the kind of music I like."
This fervent disciple of John Lurie & The Lounge Lizards, former member of the Orchestre National de Jazz (under Laurent Cugny) and one of the privileged partners of jazz diva Abbey Lincoln, recently decided to branch out in a new direction. After two successful groove albums and seven years of loyal service in the jazz-funk world, Lourau has recruited a bunch of new musicians and ventured into trip hop.
"The new album, which is due out in March
, is going to be a lot more electro than anything I've done before," Lourau announces with impatient excitement. "It has to be said, since I went to live in London for a while I've got into a more modern sound, listening to a lot of new stuff which is happening on the current scene. And I'm now starting to use these sounds in my own music. I went to quite a few drum'n'bass nights at The Blue Note and I also used to hang out at special Indian nights where guys like Talvin Singh mixed Indian music with techno, garage and house which I really enjoyed. I've also spent a lot of time listening to Frédéric Galliano's work. He put out a lot of remixes on his label Frikywa with Nahawa Doumbia, a sort of female James Brown. They're really amazing. Now, with my group, I'm moving towards basing my music round these same rhythms - except, in our case, it's the drummer who plays the drum'n'bass rhythms. He can easily play jazz over a house or garage rhythm. Besides, the DJs I've been touring with for nearly a year now can throw all sorts of loops over the top of this."
Lourau fans should not be too alarmed, however. The experimental sax-player is not totally renouncing the ethnic sounds which have long influenced his music - remember his work with the Bosnian string quartet Bojan Z and cellist Vincent Courtois, a musician renowned for his experiments with African rhythms? "In 1992, recalls Lourau, "Vincent and I travelled round Kenya, Burundi, Sudan and Rwanda together. (And, in fact, two years ago I went back to play at the St Louis Festival in Senegal). As far as the first tour went, expectations were pretty high but the experience really energised me - in fact, it was the starting-point for the Groove Gang. I set up the group when I got back from that first tour in January '92."
Lourau, a major fan of African stars such as Fela Kuti and Salif Keita, admits to being surprised by the jazz scene in Africa. "Paradoxically, when it comes to Afro-American culture, jazz is just not that well-known on the African music scene. I've seen Cameroonian musicians go crazy with siko, playing these really amazing beats! But when it comes to swing, I've never met an African drummer or bass-player who had a feeling for swing rhythms. I think it's mainly a problem of circulation - it's not easy to get hold of cassettes, let alone albums, in Africa."
Julien Lourau is on a mission to put matters to rights however. Packing up his sax and his faithful band, Lourau recently toured his festive groove all the way from Conakry and Lagos to Ouaga and Abuja. Hot on the heels of his African tour, the indefatigable sax-man is now heading off to Central America to play in San Salvador (on 27 November) and Costa Rica. (Fans can catch him at the National Theatre in San José on 30 November). Lourau claims to have been bowled over by the music scene in Latin America. "Musically speaking, the whole of Latin America is pretty amazing. I was particularly impressed by Haiti, where you've got this double Caribbean and African-roots culture. It's surprising to find this really authentic African source practically intact and untouched so far away Africa."
French jazz fans will also be getting a taste of Lourau's new sound when he and his group play in Paris at the New Morning on 8 December. Meanwhile, Lourau continues to flit back and forth to Africa between his groove and trip hop ventures - which means he's a tricky, but highly worthwhile, artist to follow!
" Groove Gang " 1995 Label Bleu/ Harmonia Mundi " City Boom Boom " 1998 Warner Music