Jean-Michel Jarre – Sessions 2000

In 2000, Jean-Michel Jarre should have been on a high – already long-regarded as a legend, and a quarter of a century into his career, he had just celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his defining album Oxygène with its follow-up Oxygène 7-13, helped bring in the new millennium with an enormous concert at the pyramids in Giza, and was about to release his most commercial album to date, Metamorphoses.

It’s the “commercial” part that seems to have been where it all went wrong. While not badly received, Metamorphoses largely passed unnoticed, and Jarre’s longstanding record company Disques Dreyfus showed indifference. So Jarre did what we would all do in this situation: made an album of deep, electronic jazz music.

The feud with the record company would continue for several more years, and in the meantime we would see low-key releases of both Sessions 2000 (2002) and Geometry of Love (2003), although sadly Experimental 2001, which was long-rumoured, never appeared. Or maybe it’s not that sad – if it’s really as experimental as all that, maybe we don’t need to hear it.

If you aren’t expecting it, the warping bass, gentle pads, rippling piano, and occasional percussive drums of January 24 will come as something of a surprise – possibly enough of one that you might turn the album off in disgust without giving it a chance. But this is an album that rewards repeated listening, and this opening track is no exception.

Better though, is the beautiful March 23. One of the longer tracks on the album, it uses the bass line as a key part of its melody, and is full of elegance and subtle form. The brass lead helps of course, but somehow it feels as though it’s playing second fiddle to the bass, so to speak.

This is not, however, an album to be enjoyed solely as individual tracks – its forty minute playing time is best digested as a single piece of music, as it floats past you, and the more dub-inspired May 1 drifts along with its deep pads and piano.

Much as I liked the Jarre of the late 1990s, as he made the most of his legendary status and tried to sell some records, in many ways this is what he should have been doing at the turn of the millennium: retreating into his studio and making beautiful electronic music.

June 21 is one of the most jazz-inspired pieces, but you also can’t help but wonder whether perhaps it owes something to 1983’s Zoolook album, with its odd samples. There’s something rather beautiful about it, in spite of it ostensibly being jazz music.

The longest track of all here is September 14, clocking in at nine-and-a-half minutes precisely. It’s probably the least interesting track too, sounding almost plodding, as it steps along with its ride cymbals. Pretty much everything on here has been heard somewhere else on the album, including the bizarre vocal samples and the dub effects. Then again, enjoyed as a constituent part of the album, it does fit pretty well.

Finally, Christmas draws on with the wintry December 17. Far dreamier and softer than any of the tracks that came before it, it’s a perfect closing track to what may have been, assuming the dates are actual recording dates, an unintentionally well structured album. Or maybe they’re just titles, based on the mood of the pieces.

Either way, Sessions 2000 is a surprisingly good, understated album, and it’s definitely tempting to wish that Jarre had released a few more like this in the (largely quiet) fifteen years that have followed.

The CD version of Sessions 2000 has long since fallen out of print, but you may be able to find a second-hand copy floating around somewhere.

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