Twenty Five by the Yellowjackets – reviewed by Chris Mann



Any diehard fan of the Yellowjackets will know the band’s history and will be able to name the fine players who have been band members or collaborators since 1981.  To them, most if not all of the music on Twenty Five will be instantly familiar.  Heads Up has made these fans’ dreams come true with its CD/DVD package “Twenty Five” which chronicles a series of great albums and the contributions of some of the world’s best contemporary jazz musicians over a quarter century. 

The music will be familiar, sure, but all the songs here are re-arranged and performed live.  The live CD was recorded in Paris on October 17th, 2005 and features some truly spirited playing on tracks such as Revelation, Jacket Town and Bob Mintzer’s frantic RunFerYerLife.  Fans of bass solos (my hand goes up) have treats in store as co-founder Jimmy Haslip cuts loose.  The whole band seems to be nice and relaxed and, on the CD more than on the DVD, the energy is tangible.  The French audience is very appreciative.  And so they might be – they have the sublime Geraldine and the mesmeric Greenhouse to enjoy, a total of eight compositions on this disc. 

However, I played the DVD first because, well, there is just so much on there!  But let’s talk about the music. The show in Forlí, Italy was recorded on October 7th, 2005 and there are some real gems here.  My personal favourites are the funky Matinee Idol (where the groove that Jimmy Haslip and drummer Marcus Baylor lay down is awesome) and the smile-inducing Imperial Strut with a doubled piano and bass figure that’s too funky and too complex for words.  If you can work out how Russ Ferrante keeps that bottom end going with his left hand whilst soloing deftly with his right, you must be some kind of musician!  If I’d been in Forlí you’d have heard me shouting… this audience is way too polite.

There is an overlap between the songs from the CD and DVD and that’s no problem at all because you get to hear two takes of Bob Mintzer’s exquisite intro to Geraldine, you marvel twice at the breathtaking Greenhouse and choose your favourite version of the lovely My Old School.  I got massive enjoyment from watching this show, partly because as a bass player I was fascinated by the way Jimmy Haslip strings his bass “upside down” but more than that I love the way he rocks, and I love the way Marcus Baylor flies round his kit.  Russ Ferrante and Bob Mintzer’s doubled keyboard and horn lines have always stunned me and watching them live it’s all the more stunning for how easy they make it look. 

So, there you have it – the Yellowjackets’ current line-up digging into the goodie bag, and they dig deep because my two faves from the DVD are taken from the band’s 1981 debut album.  They also come right up to date for Free Day from “Altered State”, their 2005 studio release. 

That’s just the start though, because the DVD contains a full discography with song samples.  It also contains behind-the-scenes footage including a moody black and white video for Greenhouse (which on its own is worth the cost of the album) and some archive live footage including Will Kennedy playing a seriously off-the-chain drum solo on RunFerYerLife.  This and the new recordings you’ve already heard and seen on “Twenty Five” really do show how many facets this band has.  The picture is made complete by some very enlightening interviews with current band members plus ‘Jackets alumni Marc Russo, Will Kennedy, Ricky Lawson and Robben Ford.   

The insert even contains a full timeline of band memberships and album releases.  The Yellowjackets devotee may have seen and heard some of this but I’m betting that they never had it all in one package like this.  Heads Up – you did a great job!  The audio and video are of very high quality and the menus and content make this package a treasure.  I’d love to see you do this for other artists on your roster such as Spyro Gyra and Andy Narell. 

As for the ‘Jackets (I feel like we’re family now…) theirs is music to get lost in.  As I have found in the weeks that I’ve had one disc or another in my DVD player, it’s not background music – it’s music you make time for and sit and soak up.  In a way I’ve had a hard time reviewing this album, because I simply didn’t know where to start.  For anyone who has followed this band’s career, this is like having your birthday and Christmas come at once.  For someone like me who bought “Four Corners” and “The Spin” in the early ‘90’s and then sold them when he got into smooth jazz, this is a revelation.  I feel like I have some catching up to do.  I just ordered my copy of “Dreamland”.

Russ Ferrante states “this is a celebration”.  It’s a 25th birthday party – many happy returns!



Heads Up International – HUCD 3112 – Producers - Yellowjackets, Executive Producer – Dave Love