Time Squared by Yellowjackets – reviewed by Chris Mann
story began in 1977, when guitarist Robben Ford assembled a top-flight
group of session players to record his album The Inside Story. The
trio included keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and
drummer Ricky Lawson.
three players gelled well and after demos featuring Robben Ford were
accepted by Warner Brothers, the Yellowjackets as a unit began to
carve out an impressive career. Even
their debut album “Yellowjackets” was well accepted on jazz radio.
Ford’s involvement with the band slowly diminished and in 1984, sax
man Marc Russo became the band’s new lead voice. Ricky Lawson
vacated the drum stool with the release of Four Corners.
He was replaced by the versatile William Kennedy and this new
unit explored more world beats and adventurous soundscapes, to great
the time of the “Greenhouse” album, Marc Russo had left and was
replaced temporarily – and later on a more permanent basis – by
the multi-talented Bob Mintzer. Bob
is still there for the Yellowjackets’ 16th album
(including live sets but excluding collections) and after two more
changes of drummer, Marcus Baylor now makes up the foursome – the
is a nod to the Washington DC music scene. Baylor on drums and the rock-solid Jimmy Haslip lay down a
groove that stays tough throughout.
The EWI and piano lines intertwine gorgeously on what becomes a
really infectious tune. Russell
Ferrante’s piano work is dazzling on Monk’s Habit, as
you’d expect on a tribute to Thelonius Monk.
This is straight-ahead jazz – with flying cymbal-work, bass
effortless ability to lay down a groove – even if you know it’s
going to fly off in different directions – has always amazed me. On Smithtown, the atmospheric breakdowns just serve to
make the groove all the sweeter when it hits again.
Bob Mintzer’s bass clarinet has done it for me ever since I
first heard his sublime “Navajo” about 10 years ago.
Marcus Baylor’s debut composition Healing Waters is a
lyrical and expressive song. It
features a playful vocal by his wife Jean and the mellow tenor of Mr.
Mintzer. The song has its
dark moments too…
title track shows the Yellowjackets throwing down an urgent groove
with nice staccato drumming, an insistent bass and layers of keyboard
action. Jimmy Haslip’s
dedication to his daughter Gabriela Rose is haunting and very
relaxed. The contrast
with the previous track highlights the band’s versatility.
If you were waiting for a bass solo here it is.
you like offbeat time signatures and complex playing that doesn’t
take itself too seriously, you’re sure to like Sea Folk. It’s littered with counterpoint and little moments of
discord. I enjoyed the
live feel of this track – this band really sounds ‘together’. Hey, and another bass solo!!
Maybe 5/4 is a more accessible time signature. Having previously bought “Four Corners” and “The
Spin”, V is just what I expected to hear on a Yellowjackets
CD. It’s best to close
your eyes and drift away. The
confidence that pours out of Mintzer’s tenor is addictive, even for
someone who doesn’t think of themselves as a “fusion” fan.
at 18 is the story of a girl’s transition to womanhood.
It’s as beautiful and poignant as you’d expect.
The richest of piano textures and that sensuous tenor combine
with the tenderest of latin rhythms to draw you in.
Lovely. Bob Mintzer’s wistful Village Gait is an offbeat
song with its share of groove and is a look over the shoulder at the
unfathomable devastation wrought upon New York in September 2001. To me it speaks of a city that picked itself up and dusted
itself off despite its suffering.
more mournful is My First Best Friend.
This is all about loss and the minor piano chords, dark tones
on soprano sax and general intensity make this a powerful closer.
music is not smooth jazz and it’s not an easy ride always.
Some of it is deceptively simple but there’s always a twist
and the playing can become very complex very suddenly.
Separate the strands though, and you’ll hear performances
that individually are some of the finest anywhere and that together
are what have made Yellowjackets a force in the jazz world for over 20
you always say “one day I must buy a Yellowjackets album”?
Well, make it this one.
Heads Up International
– cat no. HUCD 3075 – Produced by Yellowjackets