Who does not know Jean-Michel Jarre-the French composer, performer and producer who was born in 1948? You could say that he was a pioneer in the electronic music business. His style of music includes synthpop, ambient, new age and the progressive rock genres. He is also very much known for the outdoor spectacles of his music featuring lights, laser displays, and fireworks.
Jean Michel was raised in Lyon by his mother and grandparents, and trained on the piano. From an early age he was introduced to a variety of art forms, including those of street performers and jazz musicians. He played guitar in a band, but his musical style was perhaps most heavily influenced by Pierre Schaeffer, a pioneer of musique concrète at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales. After experimenting with tape loops in 1968 he joined this group one year later in 1969. Schaeffer's view was that "music isn't made of notes, it's made of sounds". Later on Jarre was also introduced to the Moog modular synthesizer, and he spent time working at the studio of influential German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne. In the kitchen of his flat in Paris, he set up a small recording studio, which included EMS VCS 3 and EMS Synthi AKS synthesisers, and two linked Revox tape machines. This was all very essential for the rest of his career. It was a good educational lesson to write, record and produce music.
However, his first mainstream success was in 1976 when he released the album Oxygène . It was recorded in a studio at his home and the album sold an estimated 12 million copies. Oxygène was followed in 1978 by Équinoxe, and in 1979 Jarre performed to a record-breaking audience of more than a million people at the Place de la Concorde, a record he has since broken three times. More albums were to follow. Several of those albums have been released to coincide with large-scale outdoor events. He has sold an estimated 80 million albums and singles. He was the first Western musician to be allowed to perform in the People's Republic of China, and holds the world record for the largest-ever audience at an outdoor event.
What a lot people don't know is the fact that Jarre wrote and recorded music before he became the artist most people know him nowadays. First he released Deserted Palace, an album of experimental instrumental electro-acoustic music released in 1972. It was released four years before his breakthrough album, Oxygène. It was an album of library music, intended for use in television programs, adverts, films, and so forth. It has not been subsequently re-released, although it is widely available as a bootleg. After that first effort he made Les Granges Brûlées ("The Burned Barns"), an album that was released in France and Canada in 1973. It is the soundtrack to the film of the same name starring Simone Signoret and Alain Delon. In 2003, the album was re-released on CD by Disques Dreyfus, the same label that he owned a lot to. So much that he did became friends with the man behind the label. He was very close to Francis Dreyfus until he died in 2010.
As sort of homage to his dear friend, he decided to do something special. He collected all his well known tracks he once released on this label, but he also collected material that was no so known to the outside world. He even did found material that had not even been released before. This material was recorded at his own place on a small Grundig tape-recorder when he was only 14 or 15 years old.
This resulted in the release of Essentials & Rarities (previously announced as Memories & Rarities). This double CD set consists of two distinctive CDs: Essentials, which is a compilation of Jean Michel Jarre's most famous work, and Rarities, which has tracks made before his ground-breaking album Oxygène.
Essentials is most certainly a feast of recognition. When you play the 15 tracks you realize how many hit singles Jarre had since 1976. Singles that not only sold very well, but also sounded very strong compared to the stuff that hits the charts nowadays. Songs such as Oxygene 2, Oxygene 4, Equinoxe 4 and Magnetic Fields 2 all have their very own charm music-wise, but the most beautiful single released by Jarre is probably Souvenir Of China. This fine orchestral piece of music was especially written for his first trip to China.
As I already mentioned, most of the tracks on Rarities were never officially released on CD before, apart from tracks from Les Granges Brûlées. The Rarities CD includes a selection of tracks from Deserted Palace, his first single La Cage and its B-side Erosmachine, and the track Happiness Is A Sad Song, which he composed in 1968 for Les Fêtes De La Jeunesse in Reims and is Jean Michel Jarre's first musical release. The tracks Happiness Is A Sad Song, La Cage and Erosmachine were composed during Jarre's time at the Groupe Recherche Musicale. The big question is of course: is his early work at the same high level of the compositions that have been released since he became a famous musician? I am afraid that this is not always the case. On most of the 16 tracks you do hear that he loved to experiment with tape loops and electronic instruments which were new for him at the time. Most of those tracks are very mellow and hardly have any rhythms. Those songs were very suitable for soundtracks , adverts and television programs. However, the material which shows that he had studied some classical music, are certainly worth listening. The tracks Deserted Palace, Black Bird and Music Box Concerto in a way reminded me how Wendy Carlos played compositions from Bach on her Moog synthesizer. The two final tracks on Rarities are remixes of his first single and the B-side. La Cage Vitalic RMX and Erosmachine Vitalic RMX are both not previously released on an album and from 2010. The first one has a kind of disco mix and does not add much extra to this release. The second mix is way better and sounds more melodic.
This compilation album (that was released in memory of Francis Dreyfus) is in a way, a very nice document. It shows the two faces of Jean Michel Jarre. The face that almost everybody knows and that brought him fame and fortune. This side of him shows that he can compose excellent music with the help of modern technology-songs that sound very recognizable after you have heard them and stick into your head for a very long time. But it also shows the face of a still unknown kid that was very eager to discover the new electronic instruments that were just developing from scratch. It's always nice to see how an artist makes his first steps to stardom and therefore the rarities on this release are also very essential. It doesn't matter how good the level is. It's just a bonus if some of the tracks are worth listening if you ask me!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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