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Jean Michel Jarre

Destined to become a chip-of-the-old-block film composer like his estranged father MAURICE JARRE (Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter, among dad’s best-known early works), French-born JEAN MICHEL JARRE abandoned the hereditary calling when his breath-taking “Oxygene” album (and its spine-tingling “Part 4” platter) unexpectedly raced towards the top of the European charts in punk-year ‘77. He never looked back, his celebrity and sombre good looks attracting many female admirers, including English actress Charlotte Rampling, whom he married in ‘78, until they separated in ’96 and divorced a few years down the line.
Born 24 August 1948 in Lyon, Jean Michel’s father abandoned the Rhone district to make a living from movie scores, leaving behind a 5-year-old son and his mother. Residing half the year with his maternal grandparents (his grandfather was an inventor, engineer and, more importantly, a musician), JARRE would inhale the street-life below him (witnessing all kinds of artists and performers), while listening to the sounds of jazz and its evolutionary genre R&B. Not quite adept to classical piano, switching teachers several times, the young painter studied at Lycee Michelet and played lead guitar for pop-rock bands, including Mystere IV and The Dustbins respectively. Jean Michel was re-introduced to his famous father at this junction in his life.
The young man’s next port of call was in 1968 as a member of Groupe de Recherches Musicales, studying ethnic, field and electronica. His love of free-form conflicted with the GRM ethos and he duly left to work under the wing of Pierre Schaeffer, and, in turn, at in Cologne at the home of Karlheinz Stockhausen, where the Moog modular synthesizer was the new plaything. Setting up his own petite studio in the kitchen of his apartment on Rue de la Tremoille, JARRE and his synths (hooked into a Revox reel-to-reel) authored his first tracks: `Happiness Is A Sad Song’ (commissioned for the 1969 exposition at Reims’ Maison de la Culture) and a two-pronged debut 45, `La Cage’ (b/w `Erosmachine’), which sold poorly when belatedly issued in ‘71.
On the back of another commission, this time for the ballet, AOR (“the light”), for choreographer Norbert Schmucki at the Palais Garnier (the youngest composer to do so), his other day-job consisted of composing jingles for radio and TV, while providing ditties for continental pop stars Christoph and Patrick Juvet. While many have overlooked his pre-“Oxygene” days, JARRE was quite the prolific artist, having augmented Jammie Jefferson and The Pop Corn Orchestra on the novelty `Pop Corn’ single, and releasing a debut LP, DESERTED PALACE (1972) {*4}. Using only Moog synths, Farfisa organ and percussion, the record (intended only for library use) led him to his sole soundtrack for the Jean Chapon film LES GRANGES BRULEES (1973) {*5} – aka “The Burned Barns”; starring Alain Delon and Simon Signoret. Of the quirky new age variety, copies of the LP duly changed hands for bagfills of francs, and one can only describe the 16-track set as jarring and episodic. Jean Michel subsequently married Flore Guillard in January 1975, but they separated (a year after the birth of Emilie Charlotte) when he was linked to the aforementioned Rampling; he gained custody of his daughter, a future fashion model.
More or less spurred on by the likes of TANGERINE DREAM, KLAUS SCHULZE and others of the electronic new age era, JEAN MICHEL JARRE found he’d an ally in Francis Dreyfus (of Disques Motors), who was, with a scepticism, immediately impressed by the composer’s simplistic layout of, what was to become OXYGENE {*8}. Consisting of `I’ to `VI’ parts of “bubbling analog sequences and memorable hook lines” (as described by one pundit), Polydor Records gave the album its UK premier in July 1977, although reviewers from the NME, Music Week and Melody Maker were less than enthralled by its slow rise to No.2 having scaled the French charts earlier; the infectious `Oxygene IV’ hit was the antipathy of the burgeoning punk/new wave scene. JARRE’s multi-layered synth-rock/pop muzak was conceptually similar to the works of MIKE OLDFIELD – minus the Englishman’s multi-instrumental dexterity, of course.
Released late the following year, Jean Michel’s EQUINOXE {*7} traced the same formulaic pattern without quite the same results, both critically and commercially – in effect it was his “Hergest Ridge” (see Mr. OLDFIELD for details). Nevertheless, the cold and computerised soundscape of-sorts appealed to the futurist movement that was derived from KRAFTWERK/krautrock and about to be outstripped by 80s electro (GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, et al). On reflection, the 8 portions on show here (from the buoyant `Parts 4-6’ to the lilting `Parts 1-3’) had an equilibrium and multi-textured effect of a refined nature that identified with its celestial subject matter.
As always experimental and inventive, MAGNETIC FIELDS (1981) {*7} – “Les Chants Magnetiques” – gave the crossover composer another European/UK Top 10 success. While Germans TANGERINE DREAM were delving deep into the world of soundtracks (their `Thief’ OST had struggled slightly within the UK chart), JARRE’s epic electronica was in full flow on 5 pieces here, opening with an 18-minute excursion a la `Part 1’.
To mark a string of gigs performed in Peking and Shanghai that year, the double-LP THE CONCERTS IN CHINA (1982) {*7} divided the “marmite effect” critics, who could now neither jump on the JARRE bandwagon nor appreciate his ability to move listeners with his Antarctic-cold keystrokes. Conjecture was rife to the whys and wherefores of a solitary copy of his ENO-esque 1983 effort, “Music For Supermarkets” (after auctioning it for around £10,000 he allegedly destroyed the master disc!), but in 1984’s ZOOLOOK {*6}, JARRE would embrace the pop world with all hands on deck; the hands being Adrian Belew (guitar), Jogi Horton (drums), Marcus Miller (bass) and guest voice LAURIE ANDERSON. Embracing a world view and recorded in over 20 different languages, the arty, prog-electro set was defined by its opening accounts `Ethnicolor’ and `Diva’; for some reason he was billed under JEAN-MICHEL JARRE on this occasion and the chart returns were poor.
In April ‘86, JARRE set a record when playing live to over one million people at Houston, Texas (to celebrate NASA), in obvious promotional support to his return to the Top 10 (near Top 50 in the US) for his RENDEZ-VOUS {*5} set. `Fourth Rendez-vous’ (as always “part 4” the highlight), was a minor UK hit, and to commemorate astronaut Ron McNair, who’d perished on the Challenger shuttle disaster that January, `Last Rendez-vous (Ron’s Piece)’ – intended to be the first music played in space. It a nice touch by the composer.
Two and a half years on, JARRE appeared in front of around three million people at the Destination Docklands concert in London; recorded over two separate nights (due to earlier Newham Council objection). HANK MARVIN featured on JARRE’s `London Kid’ minor hit (from REVOLUTIONS (1988) {*4}); the veteran guitar twanger of The SHADOWS having performed the track alongside JMJ at the aforementioned concert.
Emptying the pockets of his disciples not so long after the 1987 release of the Top 20 IN CONCERT: HOUSTON/LYON {*5}, the Dockland “gig” was also made available as the equally entrancing JARRE LIVE (1989) {*5}. Somehow, one had to be there to appreciate the mood both these albums generated.
Getting himself into an aquatic tizzy over the undersea world of (fellow Gaul) Jacques Costeau, Jean Michel would resurface with WAITING FOR COSTEAU (1990) {*6}. Split into a couple of buoyant suites, `Calypso’ in 1-3 parts, and the title track as one draining 46-minute excursion, JARRE’s “flipper-tronics” (as opposed to FRIPP’s counter mediations of the 70s) had oceans of appeal – whether he was being “Pacific” or not.
Hardly the trendiest of the electronic pioneers, JARRE belatedly gained a smattering of instant credibility in 1993 with the CHRONOLOGIE {*5} set, inspired as it was by Stephen Hawking and his A Brief History Of Time book. Peaking at No.11 in the UK charts and, like its predecessor, obviously higher in his homeland, JMJ’s need to immerse himself with live sets and the past were grating to non-fans and acolytes alike; the Slam mixes on CHRONOLOGIE Pt.6 (1994) {*4}, the live French-only HONG KONG (1994) {*3}, the self-explanatory JARREMIX (1995) {*3}, the resurgent OXYGENE 7-13 (1997) {*5} and the latter’s watered-down ODYSSEY THROUGH O2 (1998) {*3}, bubbled around the charts, leading to disastrous sales for “comeback” set, METAMORPHOSES (2000) {*6}.
A collaborative cycle of songs that featured LAURIE ANDERSON (on `Je Me Souviens’), NATACHA ATLAS (on `C’est La Vie’), SHARON CORR (on `Rendez-vous A Paris’), among others such as Deirdre Dubois, Lisa Jacobs and Veronica Bossa, respectively, he’d incorporated elements of jungle, breakfast, disco and house.
SESSIONS 2000 (2002) {*6}, GEOMETRY OF LOVE (2003) {*5}, the Top 20 out-takes set AERO (2004) {*6}, the double-DVD or CD package JARRE IN CHINA (2005) {*5} and LIVE FROM GDANSK (KONCERT W STOCZNI) (2005) {*5}, were all greeted with a certain degree of distance and apathy in Britain (and beyond); the 5.1 surround sound, and HD enhancement, et al, aimed high. In the meantime, after a brief time as beau to Isabelle Adjani, he married another French actress Anne Parillaud, in May 2005; they divorced 5 years later.
2007’s promising TEO & TEA {*5} was back to his playful self, an album that reached to the stars, but effectively plummeted to Earth commercially. The 30th anniversary of his debut Dreyfus-endorsed set was marked by OXYGENE: NEW MASTER RECORDING (2007) {*6}, which was accompanied by a 2D & 3D “Live In Your Living Room” double-DVD that was grandiose even by JARRE’s standards.
One expected, after his “Conquistador” collaboration with Gesaffelstein, that a new album would be unleashed sometime in 2015. These promises were proved conclusive when parent set, ELECTRONICA 1: THE TIME MACHINE {*8} was a European success, hitting the Top 10 in the UK. Augmented by a stellar cast of stars from Boyz Noise and M83 (on the opening title track and the uplifting `Glory’ respectively) to AIR, VINCE CLARKE, LITTLE BOOTS, FUCK BUTTONS, MOBY, PETE TOWNSHEND, LAURIE ANDERSON, MASSIVE ATTACK’s 3d, et al, JMJ’s “fluxable” cinematic-like tunes and spiny melodies bounced out of the speakers; many of them were reminiscent of TANGERINE DREAM and JOHN CARPENTER, who also feature here on the mechanical `Zero Gravity’ (a bow to FROESE) and `A Question Of Blood’.
A second volume was out and about the following spring; collaborators/contributors GARY NUMAN, PRIMAL SCREAM, The ORB, PET SHOP BOYS, YELLO, CYNDI LAUPER, PEACHES, JULIA HOLTER, among other stars, were afforded precious studio time with JARRE on the Top 10, ELECTRONICA 2: THE HEART OF NOISE (2016) {*6}. Said to be inspired by Italian futurist Luigi Russolo in his similarly-titled pre-WWI manifesto, the set came across as a poor cousin companion piece to its predecessor, its cruising cosmic prog-techno subdued by spoken-word samples from Leon Theremin and Bob Moog (on `Switch On Leon’) and a cut ‘n’ paste monologue (`Exit’) from undercover whistleblower Edward Snowden – more MFI than MI5.
In marking its 40th anniversary – if one counted its original home-soil release back in December ‘76 – OXYGENE 3 (2016) {*6} was JMJ’s return to solitary noodling and knob-twiddling. Seven tunes in parts 14-20, what differentiated this record from its meisterwork counterpart, was that there no immediate earworm (e.g. “Part 4”), although the pop-fuelled uber-waves of nos. 17 and 20 had spiny, GOBLIN-meets-Phantom-esque moments of grandeur.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS May2015-May2016

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