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Yellowjackets: A Rise in the Road (2013)

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Yellowjackets: A Rise in the Road With the departure of bassist Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
b.1951
bass, electric
in 2012, pianist Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
Russell Ferrante
b.1952
keyboard
is the sole original member, more than three decades after the band's debut recording Yellowjackets (Warner Bros, 1981) set the ball rolling. That said, saxophonist Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
Bob Mintzer
b.1953
saxophone
has been onboard 22 years and drummer Will Kennedy 14. Not for nothing does the twenty second studio recording sound every bit a Yellowjackets offering—and a fine one at that. New bassist Felix Pastorius has been touring with the band for over a year and in quiet fashion makes the bass chair his own.

Melodically seductive throughout, there's less bite than on Lifecycle (Heads Up, 2008), which featured guitarist Mike Stern
Mike Stern
Mike Stern
b.1953
guitar
and fewer really memorable tunes compared to the exquisite Timeline (Mack Avenue Records, 2011). Nevertheless, A Rise in the Road is a worthy addition to the band's discography. As ever, Ferrante and Mintzer share writing duties and the trademark Yellowjackets sound remains firmly intact; straight-ahead grooves and flowing bop lines co-exist with sprightly jazz-funk, R&B, and the light, orchestral grace that Ferrante has honed on synthesizer since the outstanding Greenhouse (GRP, 1991).

The up-tempo "When the Lady Dances" starts with a jaunty piano intro before Ferrante and Mintzer fuse on boppish unison lines. Mintzer's unmistakable tenor bounces with R&B swagger over Pastorius' walking bass. Ferrante's singing right-hand response sounds equally celebratory. Ferrante and Mintzer are closely bound once again on the mellifluous "Civil War," with Ferrante on keyboards and Kennedy and Pastorius keeping it simple and in the pocket. Conventional in form these tunes may be, but they're also melodically, harmonically and rhythmically engaging. And as always, the Yellowjackets sound like no-one but themselves.

The funky piano ostinato on "Can't We Elope" tips a wink to pianist Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
's "Cantaloupe Island"; guest trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
b.1982
trumpet
broadens the sonic palette in harmony with Mintzer before they alternate lively solos. Akinmusire and Mintzer are again protagonists on "An Informed Decision" but just when they seem set to really rip in an extended back and forth the song teasingly fades. Frustratingly, this is also the case on the boppish charger "An Amber Shade of Blue," though Akinmusire gets to exercise his considerable chops before the producer's accursed fade dial turns. It leaves you wanting more, which is what the band's memorable live shows are for.

The balladic "Longing" has an alluring cinematic grandeur, with Pastorius and Mintzer weaving a quiet spell over Ferrante's ethereal tinkling while Kennedy subtly stirs the pot. Pastorious displays heartfelt lyricism on another Ferrante ballad, ("You'll Know) When It's Time," while "Thank You" and "Madrugada" are elegant slices of Yellowjackets tune 'n' groove. The tropical air of "I Knew His Father" pays joyous tribute to Pastorius father, bassist Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
whose Word of Mouth big band featured Mintzer in the early 1980s.

The road has been a long one for the Yellowjackets and rarely has it been straight—half a dozen members have come and gone and as many record companies. Yet through it all the music has never stood still. On this showing, there are clearly plenty more laps of the planet left in the tank.


Track Listing: When The Lady Dances; Civil War; Can’t We Elope; An Informed Decision; Longing; Thank You; Madrugada; An Amber Shade of Blue; (You’ll Know) When It’s Time; I Knew His Father.

Personnel: Russell Ferrante: piano, keyboards; Bob Mintzer: tenor saxophone; Wil Kennedy: drums; Felix Pastorius: electric bass; Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (3-4, 8)

Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

Style: Contemporary/Smooth


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