Yellowjackets // All Music Album Review
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Yellowjackets // All Music Album Review

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The Yellowjackets are an anomaly in contemporary jazz. They actually began their career playing accessible fusion, then evolved toward pop-friendly smooth jazz. Over the decades, lineup changes engendered a widening musical philosophy that embraced post-bop, global polyrhythms, and expansive arrangements. They've become one of the most innovative electro-acoustic jazz ensembles. Keyboardist/composer Russell Ferrante, the group's sole founding member, was joined by drummer Will Kennedy in 1987 and saxophonist/EWI player/arranger/composer Bob Mintzer in 1990. Bassist Dane Alderson made his debut on 2016's Cohearance. Jackets XL is a collection of imaginatively rearranged crowd and catalog favorites. Mintzer enlisted the famed WDR Big Band from Koln, Germany as collaborators (he has been their principal conductor since 2016). Seven of the ten tunes here, creating a seamless interaction between ensembles.

The material is drawn mainly from the '80s and '90s, though there are a couple of 21st century selections included. "Downtown," from 1988's Politics, was originally recorded as a fusion jam drenched in Weather Report's influence. This version, arranged by Vince Mendoza, has a faster tempo with knotty hard bop cadences, brighter harmonic colors from the woodwinds and reeds, and skittering double-timed snare, popping brass, and a roiling bass solo. Ferrante's "Dewey" was recorded as a tribute to Miles Davis in 1992. A muted trumpet guided the lyric in a lithe, silky funk tune comprised of vamps. This version is darker and deeper, as the brass section claims the lone trumpet's role; it's appended by lush keyboard vamps and drop-beat snare. Mintzer's EWI offers a snaky, welcoming solo atop expansive brass and reed harmonics, syncopated rhythms, and gritty funk keyboards. "Mile High," from 1987's Four Corners, was a pop tune that borrowed from the arrangements and production used on Tears for Fears' multi-platinum "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Here, the original tune's vamp remains, but everything else has been altered. Mintzer's tenor-articulated melody is adorned by piano, woody rim shots, and layered brass and reeds, all guided by a pulsing, hypnotic bassline. The new version of 1993's "Even Song" by Mintzer weds slippery R&B to horn arrangements reminiscent of Tower of Power. "One Day," an unreleased jam from 2018, offers the most creative use of Mintzer's EWI in a post-bop setting, and is righteously juxtaposed with Ferrante's groove-oriented electric piano playing. In 1981, "Imperial Strut" was a guitar-based funky fusion number; here it's been liberated from Ferrante's wedding stride piano to post-bop, with fingerpopping horn cadences, twisting synth and EWI interludes, and a rolling funk bassline. Closer "Revelation" swings with gospel horns and pumping acoustic piano. The influence of the Jazz Crusaders' early arrangement style on Mintzer's gloriously kinetic chart cannot be overstated. Jackets XL offers not only a seamless, sophisticated, kaleidoscopic jazz collaboration, and it also reveals Yellowjackets' musical evolution through taste, variety, imagination, and genuine surprise. They welcome listeners into their party as participants, not merely as observers. Enjoy.

Read Article: All Music