Reviewing an album created by a legend is a little daunting, but also a lot of fun. When I heard Jean-Michel Jarre had a new album coming soon, I was thrilled and knew that I wanted to cover it. The new album is called “Amazônia” and it released on April 7th.
Jarre is one of the pioneers of ambient and electronic music. His discography is expansive and definitely hits different types of notes and structures than his co-pioneers Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. In my mind, he has also been a little more upbeat, a little more accessible, and definitely more over the top in some ways, especially in his live shows.
With “Amazônia”, Jarre has created a soundtrack to go along with a media project from photographer and filmmaker Sebastião Salgado. The project goes by the same name and features over 200 photographs and other media, all of which depict the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. The album is 52 minutes long, so the project is apparently quite extensive.
As you may expect from the name of the album, “Amazônia” is an atmospheric, immersive experience that makes the listener feel like they are in the rainforest. It’s more than just jungle noises, river tones, and animal cries, however. The music encompasses the human sound of the Amazon, too. You will hear voices, melodies, and incidentals that breath human life into this record. So, while you may expect the sounds of foliage, insects, and distant howls, you might not expect the muttering, humming, and even whimsical buzz of village life.
Jarre has taken it upon himself to craft more than music and ambience here. The album has a “binaural” version that makes the album take on 3-D audio qualities, placing you directly inside the experience almost to a frightening degree. While you might expect a special design like this to focus on unnerving, sweaty jungle auras, the album is more than that. Yes, you do get something of a “Paradise Lost” feeling at times and Jarre does visit places where the darkness is deepest, just to take us there and to force an emotional reaction. However, I was surprised at how many quirky, happy segments there are, as well. Especially in the more human portions, the music does not come across as primitive or clichéd, but instead feels complex, different, and unusual to the same degree that the peoples of the Amazon are dissimilar from the rest of the world.
Between all of the sound effects and atmospheric touches, Jarre has made something that feels musical, almost like tapping into the hovering harmony of the planet itself. With precision in his keys and hypnosis in his percussion, Jarre draws us into an experience and a rhythm that only becomes more mysterious and enthralling as each track bleeds into the next. And this certainly is one long track of sorts, as the album is split into 9 parts, all with the same name. Jarre, of course, has followed that style for decades, such as on his “Oxygène” and “Équinoxe” records.
I think some of my favorite moments take place in Parts 3-5. These three tracks take us through chanting rituals, electronic and driving beats, spacious auras, and many bird calls, for some reason. I always look forward to those tracks, and there are even moments that remind me of Mike Oldfield’s “The Songs of Distant Earth” here.
I also love Parts 7-9, specifically starting about halfway through Part 7. These last few tracks have an airy quality to them, full of storms, wonder, and secrets. They almost feel like celebrations, in a way, and there is this quiet majesty to them that makes me feel like I’m rushing along the treetops and witnessing the vast power of the river. Part 9 specifically feels this way with glorious voices and crystal clear textures ending the experience on a very high note.
Jean-Michel Jarre has nothing to prove to anyone. We know that he is a legend of ambient electronic music. But here he has produced yet another fantastic record, one that seeps into dark places and also sweeps me away into the clouds. We witness sunshine and rain, people and animals, ancient trees and rhythmic rituals. The music has such texture and such special design that this is like entering somewhere new altogether, like being transported to another world. I love taking the journey.
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