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Jazz

Herbie Hancock

The Complete Columbia

Album Collection: 1972-1988

[Columbia Legacy]

3½ stars

Here, for certain, is one of the truly great box sets of gift season. The irony, at this stage of the game, is that the records that comprise its very reason for being in its 34-disc splendor, are the least interesting to be found within.

There are perfectly good reasons why Herbie Hancock (especially) and Chick Corea both achieved far more commercial success in the jazz-rock fusion and funk business than Miles Davis, their cardinal influence in doing so. There wasn’t an ounce of Davis that wasn’t a dedicated and exploratory artist, no matter how desperately he wanted street cred with a genuinely mass audience.

Hancock, on the other hand, was a smash hit on jukeboxes and Top 40 charts even before he ever sat down in the piano chair of the Miles Davis Quintet and stayed there for some of the most accomplished and formative years of his musical life.

Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” was such a huge hit in Mongo Santamaria’s version that Hancock was considered a wizard in the pop music business whether he wanted to be or not.

So when Davis’ electronic explorations convinced him to go into the funk and fusion business himself, he instantly outstripped Davis commercially with “Headhunters” – so much so that soon, to Davis’ admitted bitterness and consternation, he found himself opening for Hancock’s “Headhunters” band.

What you have to realize, then, is that everything is here, including all the post-“Watermelon” electronics and funk that made Hancock immensely popular but couldn’t begin to compare with Hancock, the growing jazz piano giant.

If you listen, for instance, to Hancock’s electronic funk update of his former “Watermelon Man” era favorite, “Canteloupe Island,” it’s close to an embarrassment.

And that’s why the lion’s share of the truly great giant box – the one displaying the ever-surprising jazz pianist – is wonderful to have.

Put it all together like this and Hancock was an astonishingly versatile player. He was great in duet with Corea and he was equally great solo or ushering Wynton Marsalis into the Columbia family with a quartet record.

The V.S.O.P. bands – Davis’ quintet with Freddie Hubbard taking his place – were simply extraordinary. The 18-minute “Eye of the Hurricane” from 1976 is one of the best things in Hancock’s recording life.

His presentations of Japanese vocalist Kimiko Kasai and Afro-Pop’s Foday Musa Suso are fascinating. His participation as leader in the music for Bertrand Tavernier’s film “ ‘Round Midnight” made for one of the great jazz movie soundtracks.

It’s the whole package you hear here, – jazz and pop – that made him one of the rare jazz Kennedy Center honorees (in the tradition of Sonny Rollins) but what cannot be ignored on this huge outlay is how truly formidable he remains as an artist and how evanescent he now seems as a pop star.

– Jeff Simon

Rock

Daughtry

Baptized

[RCA]

2 stars

This is the forth album Chris Daughtry and his band have released since the singer came to the attention of the mainstream via his appearance on “American Idol.” In a world where Train, Nickelback and Lifehouse already existed, it is indeed amazing that Daughtry wasn’t simply deemed superfluous to demand, and has instead been granted both a healthy career and a platform for rehashing other people’s clichés.

A decent, if fairly unimaginative, rock singer, Daughtry at his best evokes the alt-metal roar of Godsmack, and at his worst, sounds like he’s trying to make a rock record that Simon Cowell might like. As a result, much of “Baptized” comes across as a simulacrum of hard rock and classic rock aimed at listeners who might not have the stomach for more pure strains of either.

That said, “Baptized” is easily the finest of the four albums to bear the Daughtry imprimatur. The singer, who has always traded in the earnest, “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride” brand of stadium rock machismo, lightens up here. During “Long Live Rock & Roll,” an awful song that comes across like Mumford & Sons covering Kid Rock, Daughtry sounds like he’s having the time of his life dropping late 1980s and early ’90s pop culture references with a gleeful air. Not that this saves the song – it’s still an absolute travesty.

Similarly, “Waiting For Superman” boasts a lighter touch, and is peppered with electro-pop flourishes, tough guy Daughtry allowing his voice to be bathed in auto-tune.

It’s different for Daughtry, certainly. Trouble is, it’s not really different in the broader sense. Even if he has lightened up a bit, Daughtry and his band still sound like a ’90s alt-rock cover band

– Jeff Miers

Soundtrack

M83

You and the Night

[Mute]

3½ stars

At the heart of M83’s stadium-worthy techno-soul bombast has always lurked a subtlety more akin to ambient music. Lush dreamscapes might not be what the M83 fan base is filling venues to witness – there’s more of a “fire the lasers!” mentality at work in that setting, and M83 is not afraid to deliver the all-out light show and repetitive, mantralike rhythms necessary to connect an artist to rave culture – but unquestionably, these thinly veneered aspects have always been there.

Now, with “You and the Night,” they’ve come fully to the foreground. M83 brain-trust Anthony Gonzalez took on the commission to score this French language film directed by his brother, Yann. Nepotism pays off big time in this instance, as the Gonzalez-led project turns out to be a fully realized M83 album, even if it is short on vocals and long on dreamy, if well-developed and musically intriguing, soundscapes.

Gonzalez is smart enough to layer myriad nods to French soundtrack music from the 1970s throughout “You and the Night,” but the most obvious forebear to this M83 project is Air’s thoroughly compelling soundtrack to the 2000 Sofia Coppola film “The Virgin Suicides.” Like that effort, “You and the Night” can hold up separate from the film as a free-standing artwork with emotional peaks and valleys and enough harmonic drama to satisfy those who might find ambient music a bit on the banal side.

“You and the Night” works in much the same fashion as Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” – there’s plenty to reward the listener who wants to tune in and zone out, but letting the whole album play in the background while you drift in and out of focus is still a rewarding experience.

– J.M.

Country

Kellie Pickler

The Woman I Am

[Black River]

3 stars

On the title song of her new album, Kellie Pickler paints herself as both a tough broad, stubborn and proud, and one who sometimes cries at night – a woman who can “fall to pieces with Patsy Cline.” It’s a portrait that plays out over the former “American Idol” contestant’s fourth album.

“The Woman I Am” has more mainstream-country polish than last year’s career peak, “100 Proof.” The guitars get cranked louder and harder on the rocking numbers, for instance, and songs such as “Little Bit Gypsy” and “Bonnie and Clyde” have a more generic feel to them. (Pickler doesn’t write as much here as she did on “100 Proof.”) Still, she cuts an appealingly convincing, and country, figure as she moves from a celebration of her great-grandmother on “Selma Drye” to the vengeful glee of “Ring for Sale” and the quiet introspection of “Tough All Over.”

– Nick Cristiano,

Philadelphia Inquirer