State by Yellowjackets Ė reviewed by Chris Mann
only just stopped listening to ĒPeace RoundĒ (for now anyway),
though my Christmas tree got recycled close to two months ago.
It was a different kind of holiday record and a great piece of
work from a different kind of contemporary jazz group.
whetted my appetite for ďAltered StateĒ, the bandís fourth
release for Heads Up International.
percussionist Mike Shapiro kicks off Suite 15. Itís immediately recognisable Yellowjackets; offbeat time
signature, strong elements of melody, dancing cymbals and a
mischievous wandering bassline. Sometimes
the bass doubles the piano, sometimes Bob Mintzerís gorgeous tenor
doubles it. It grows to a
crescendo and is a great opener.
There is an almost reggae feel on the opening to March
Majestic, which becomes more majestic as it progresses.
That sax sounds fabulous - if I learned to play sax, Iíd want
to get that sound. As the rhythm calms, thereís more space in the sound and a
great string synth.
vocals on Yellowjackets songs are usually strong and the contributions
by Jean Baylor and the Perry Sisters (no longer PerrŪ) on Hope
are no exception. The
lead vocals sit neatly with the staccato rhythm and that gospel chorus
wells up beautifully as the song moves to its close.
The mood on Hunterís Point is almost menacing.
It has a constant rise-and-fall of tension; the sweet soprano
sax and mean bass clarinet lines wind around a sparse drum pattern.
Oh Lord, Russell Ferrante takes an electric piano solo thatís
mid-70ís Herbie Hancock all over!
Mintzerís getting all Bennie Maupin too.
The complex time signature and key changes keep you on your
toes. Itís challenging
Ė but worth hanging in there forÖ
Earth is a less complex tune which has
Jimmy Haslip finding those nice fat notes on the bass.
Does anyone engineer a better drum sound than Bill Schnee?
Those cymbals dance from speaker to speaker Ė close your eyes
and you can practically see Marcus Baylor workiní it!
Clean bass picking kicks off the busy Youth Eternal,
which kind of reminds me of an old Steps Ahead tune, and thatís a
good thing. Live, this is
going to be massive, if it isnít already.
The sax solo is loose and this song is really a jam!!
idea how they get the frantic vibes and electronic percussion sound on
Free Day. That
pace canít be sustained and the mellower mid section is a nice
change of tempo. The
tenor sax really speaks out on here.
Listen for the superb snare drum workout from Baylor on the
fade. Nuts! That
Bennie Maupin sound is back on the strutting Cross Current. The rhythm is pure funk and the bass clarinet and EWI really ride
the rhythm as Kool and the Gang used to say. This swings like crazy and itís my favourite song from the
electric piano is, well, itís just bliss on a stick!
bass leads you into Aha, which is a typically elegant
ĎJackets workout. Itís
dark but playful, complex but grooving, melodic but blowiní Ė
hell, itís the Yellowjackets! The
piano is everywhere on the lovely 57 Chevy.
Itís a Ferrante composition and it showcases his piano sound
beautifully. Itís a
nostalgic sound and it intoxicates.
If you like EWI, youíre going to enjoy Unity.
For me, the lyrical soprano sax here is as sweet as any Iíve
heard. A subtle string
synth adds to the drama as Haslip explores the upper range of that
superb Tobias bass.
is the third outstanding Yellowjackets release Iíve had the pleasure
of receiving in my mailbox, playing loud and writing about.
If youíre a Yellowjackets fan already, nothing Iíve said
will surprise you. The
Mintzer/Ferrante/Haslip/Baylor line-up continues to serve up daring
but accessible music. Every
song on the CD improves with repeated listening Ė the quality of
musicianship, production and sound engineering continues to astound.
an aside, Iíve been experimenting with a device to give a cleaner
mains supply to my hi-fi system. Iím glad I did, because it has to be worthwhile
doing anything that gets you just a little closer to music this good.
Heads Up International - HUCD3097 Producers - Yellowjackets, Executive Producer - Dave Love (also available on SACD, HUSA9097)