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Terence Blanchard: Breathless

The riotously danceable cover of Les McCann’s classic “Compared to What” that opens Terence Blanchard’s Breathless sets up the counterintuitive mix of groove-oriented partying and protest to follow brilliantly. It also serves as fair warning to bop purists that Blanchard and his new band, the E-Collective, are exploring something different here.

The protest can be spoken (by Blanchard’s son JRei Oliver or, on “Talk to Me,” by Dr. Cornel West), sung (by PJ Morton Jr., a member of the pop group Maroon 5, but not its frontman) or neither (Blanchard’s slow-groove “See Me as I Am”). Sometimes it’s set aside entirely in favor of pure fun, as on Morton’s soul reconfiguration of Hank Williams’ “I Ain’t Got Nothing But Time” or the instrumental keyboards-and-guitar chase of Fabian Almazan and Charles Altura on the short track “Tom & Jerry.” Obvious highlights include the title track, which references Eric Garner’s death-by-NYPD-chokehold last summer; Almazan’s mood-shifting extended piece “Everglades”; Blanchard’s hard-driving, Buddhism-inspired “Confident Selflessness”; the guitar-powered pieces “Soldiers” (funky and fleet) and “Cosmic Warrior” (futuristic, with an edge of heavy-metal menace); and the stately instrumental cover of Coldplay’s “Midnight” that closes the album.

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