Yellowjackets: Yellowjackets (2004)
Most contemporary jazz or instrumental pop albums released over the past 25 years owe one thing or another to the style and sound advanced by this 1981 debut.
When keyboardist, composer and arranger Russell Ferrante pulled drummer Ricky Lawson and bassist Jimmy Haslip into his fledgling swarm, he also called on guitarist Robben Ford, with whom he played in Jimmy Witherspoon’s band, to inject a hard rock edge into the music. “It wasn’t like the earlier fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, which was a very chopped kind of rock sound,” recalls Ferrante. “We were influenced by fusion that was more melodic and compositional.” Though Ford’s electric axe surely grinds and howls, this is jazz almost completely divorced from the blues—up-tempo, quick-rhythmed jazz presented with a shiny happy face.
The main soloists are Ferrrante and Ford plus the time’s upper crust of guests: Jerry Hey’s flugelhorn stings “The Hornet”; percussionists Lenny Castro and Paulinho Da Costa percolate through “Rush Hour” as Ford’s razor sharp guitar stomps the brakes against the band’s stop-time riffing; and saxophonist Ernie Watts funks around with the opening “Matinee Idol,” absolutely perfect for the open freeway on a crisp and cloudless spring morning.
The pair prowls majestically through “Imperial Strut,” advancing the keyboard/guitar excursions of Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer (think “Freeway Jam” from Blow by Blow ), while Ferrante commands the funk while “Sittin’ In It” and introduces and closes “It’s Almost Gone” with sadly beautiful solo piano.
This reissue supplements the original release with four tunes from the demo that led to this debut: Ford’s blues “Flat Tire” and samba “Blondie,” Ferrante’s “Katie” (which Ford hotly spanks) and the demo version of “Imperial Strut.”
Track Listing: Matinee Idol; Imperial Strut; Sittin' In It; Rush Hour; The Hornet; Priscilla; It's Almost Gone; Imperial Strut (demo); Flat Tire (demo); Katie (demo); Blondie (demo).
Personnel: Russell Ferrante: keyboards; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Ricky Lawson: drums; Robben Ford: guitar; Lenny Castro: percussion; Paulhino da Costa: percussion; Bobby Lyle: acoustic piano (3); Roland Bautista" guitar (3); Larry Williams: tenor saxophone, flutes; Jerry Hey: trumpet, flugelhorn, flugelhorn solo (5); Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone (1); Bill Reichenbach: trombones, horn arrangements; Gary Herbig: tenor saxophone, flute; Kim Hutchcroft: tenor/baritone saxophones; Larry Williams: additional synthesizer programming, horn arrangements.