Electronic Dance Music

Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories” (Columbia). The French duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – Daft Punk to the world at large – is given to wearing weird helmets that suggest a cross between the Stormtroopers from “Star Wars” and a particularly cautious motorcyclist. There’s something about electronic dance music and strange headgear that I can’t quite get my own un-helmeted head around. But, alas. That’s entertainment. Empty symbolism abounds. Daft Punk are pioneers in EDM, so it is only appropriate that, for album four, “Random Access Memories,” the duo takes the opportunity to turn up its nose at the idiom it helped to create. Indeed, the overarching theme of “RAM” involves an attempt to rehumanize the genre by using “real” musicians to perform the music. This only seems radical if you have fully accepted some ironically bearded dude standing in front of a few iPod mixers and waving his hands around as a genuine musical attraction. To someone of this mental persuasion, the fact that Daft Punk has made an album of soulful ’70s disco, pop and jazz-ish dance music with the help of Nile Rogers, members of the Strokes and Animal Collective, Pharrell Williams and electronic disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, has got to seem like an act of treason. Everyone else should find it charming, however. Sure, tunes like “Give Life Back to Music,” “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Instant Crush” and “Doin’ It Right” are about as deep as an ABBA playlist, but they are abundantly charismatic, super catchy, and most significantly, human-sounding dance tunes. One senses that, beneath the space helmets, Bangalter and Homem-Christo are smirking. 3 stars (Jeff Miers)


Miguel Zenon and the Rhythm Collective, “Oye!!!: Live in Puerto Rico” (Miel Music). Sensational. One of the great jazz records of a year that is offering them to us in startling abundance. Alto saxophonist Zenon says this about the Puerto Rican percussion musicians who comprise the Rhythm Collective: they “came together for a month and a half long tour of West Africa” during the summer of 2003. It was during that tour that this incredible music was developed, even though it wasn’t performed in a concert not heard here until eight years later, in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. For two nights full of what Zenon, with no overstatement whatsoever, calls “energy and fire,” Zenon improvised over nothing but a drummer, a percussionist and an electric bass, giving the music that singular texture where a piano’s or a guitar’s harmonies are replaced by monstrous but agile bass lines and rhythmic explosions that become quite wild and phenomenal all the way through. And when the music slows down, Zenon’s lyric talent on the alto can be heart-rending. In its very instrumental simplicity, this music becomes both hugely complex rhythmically and insanely infectious. So good is this disc, you wonder why in jazz history there haven’t been more jazz saxophonists to record with bands like it – with bassists thundering forth with rock solid bass lines and celebratory eruptions from a percussion battery. A brilliant disc. 4 stars (Jeff Simon)


Cecile McLorin Salvant, “Woman Child” (Mack Avenue). When Cecile McLorin Salvant won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, she almost instantly acquired a fan base any other young jazz singer could envy. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humor, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace” is Wynton Marsalis’ estimate of her abilities, now understandably emblazoned on her publicity. When some of us first heard her on disc – on “Gouache,” the last disc by another previous Monk competition winner Jackie Terrasson – she sounded like nothing so much as an imitator of Madeline Peyroux on John Lennon’s “Oh My Love.” Now, on her own disc, we can hear how thoroughly erroneous that impression was. Salvant is a singer so eclectic and multifaceted that it’s easy for her to impress listeners as being a kind of one-woman continuation of the highest tradition of jazz singing. In her quest to find well-crafted songs that no one else does, she gives us “St. Louis Gal” done by Bessie Smith 90 years ago, “You Bring Out the Savage in Me” (which fine liner notater Ted Gioia points out hasn’t been recorded since 1935), Bert Williams’ (!) “Nobody” and versions of “John Henry” and Billie Holiday’s “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” that sound nothing at all like anyone else’s. Her band here is as good as it gets in jazz these days, including drummer Herlin Riley, bassist Rodney Whitaker and pianist Aaron Diehl. In a way that’s similar to Terrasson, she comes to us on her first disc in a way that is virtually fully formed already, as if she had been a high-profile performer for 10 years at least. An exciting disc in quite a few ways. 3½ stars (J.S.)


Terence Blanchard, “Magnetic” (Blue Note). Blanchard’s “A Tale of God’s Will” – the musician’s requiem for what Katrina did to his home city New Orleans – was one of the unquestioned great jazz discs of this new jazz century. One tune – “Over There” written by the Blanchard Quintet’s tenor saxophonist Brice Winston – was as profoundly moving in a very different way as John Coltrane’s “Alabama” recorded decades ago under terrible circumstances of a different sort. Here is Blanchard’s new version of that quintet, with Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter, no less, as guests. (According to Blanchard in the publicity, the great bassist of Miles Davis’ second great quintet told Blanchard “Stop running from me, man.” He’s among many jazz nobility who belong in Blanchard’s company.) Blanchard has always been a great trumpet player and a first-rate jazz composer both. 3½ stars (J.S.)


Eliane Elias, “I Thought About You: A Tribute to Chet Baker” (Concord Jazz). Karma, it seems, is everything the bumper stickers accuse it of being. Sixty years after Gerry Mulligan turned jazz upside down with his pianoless quartet with Chet Baker, it isn’t Mulligan – a truly great jazz composer and the greatest baritone saxophonist jazz will ever have – whom everyone is elbowing each other out of the way to honor, it’s Baker, his handsome trumpet-playing junkie partner with the high-cheekbones and a penchant for singing pillowy vocals with incongruously wobbly dentures. What that means on this disc by piano player/singer Eliane Elias is a very hip 1950s and ’60s West Coast version of the Great American Songbook performed by Elias with a pretty good trumpet player, Randy Brecker, her husband. Baker’s romanticism in the repertoire isn’t really Elias’ thing, which is more a Brazilian groove even on “Let’s Get Lost.” “You Don’t Know What Love Is” isn’t nightlife junkie bravado, but a well-adjusted musician and singer performing a song she obviously loves just because it’s a song she loves. Her slow sinuous version of Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” is among the many jazz versions which will never begin to equal Ray Bryant’s, but it’s hard not to love it anyway. Baker brought out some of the best in her and her friends. 3½ stars (J.S.)