It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that electronic music can swing. After all, the point of techno bloops and bleeps is often the opposite that of jazz: an attempt to put bodies into machine-like dance rather than the organic dash of the best jazz. Crooner Joy Askew asks her live audience to indulge as she combines the two, just as she does on Echo’s debut New Line album.
Askew’s voice is impressive, and she nails standards like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” She scats parts of “Night and Day” in a way that would give a heart attack to a traditionalist, but under the music’s post-lounge, post-trip-hop hipster exterior lies the basic song structure and a reverence for the music — most important when re-inventing the classics.
Programmer and multi-instrumentalist Yuske Yamamoto (sitting in for album collaborator Tayuka Nakamura) understands this most, lending horn parts and keyboard fills to accentuate Askew’s sometimes breathy, sometimes full-throttle voice. The arrangements are always sparse but never feel empty, and though it’s not music that lends itself to performance (a latenight martini party’s more its place), Askew leads her band through it with a sultry, contagious excitement.
As the lines blur between the covers that constitute half of Echo’s repertoire and the originals that make up the other, it becomes clear that jazz and electronic music aren’t necessarily at odds. It just takes the right hands to find the middle area between the two. Echo isn’t the first to do it, and it won’t be the last, but with a Cole Porter songbook under one hand and a Mac Powerbook under the other, it’s already the genre’s standard bearer.