Longevity in music is something to be celebratedespecially in jazz, where a "hit occurs with the frequency of a winter storm in August. With Twenty Five, the Yellowjackets have reached a milestone attainable only with sustained excellence. Originally named the Robben Ford Group after the band's leader and guitarist, the Yellowjackets began buzzing in 1981 with Ford, Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip and drummer Ricky Lawson. After a few personnel changes, the current lineup of Ferrante, Haslip, Bob Mintzer and Marcus Baylor was formed in 2000.
Twenty Five is a two-for-one treat: a CD and a DVD capture two live performances during the Yellowjackets' 2005 European tour. Recorded at the New Morning Concert Hall in Paris in October 2005, the CD presents eight tracks that include some of the group's most popular songs. The group does not disappoint, opening with an instrumental rendition of "Revelation, recorded live behind the jazz/gospel group Take 6. Ferrante's keys and Haslip's bass sizzle.
That track is followed by a fan favorite, "Geraldine. Mintzer's mellow tenor leads on this, perhaps the group's most beautiful melody. Baylor and Haslip deliver a subtle background rhythm behind the sax and piano leads. The other pieces include "Sea Folk, "Greenhouse and the high-energy "RunFerYerLife, where Baylor sets up the ending with a stunning drum solo.
Even though the group's studio efforts show a great deal of freedom, these live versions take the Yellowjackets' improvisational skills to greater heights. Mixing time signatures, the rhythm goes this way while the leads and solos go that way.
The DVD's main feature is a concert filmed at the Naima Club in Forli, Italy. Five of the songs on the CD are repeated here, but the group also performs "Red Sea, "Matinee Idol, "Imperial Strut and "Time Squared, Mintzer's time-shifting title song from the group's 2003 release.
The DVD also includes interviews with band members past and present, as well as session players. Among them are Ford, past drummers Lawson and William Kennedy, and past saxophonist Marc Russo. It also has a variety of background and retrospective footage, including highlights from early performances. In one segment, varied camera angles provide closeups of a Kennedy solo. It's amazing to watch him cover the toms, snare and cymbals. At one point, he disengages the snare, in effect creating a high-pitched tom. Then he goes through an extended display, working the toms, bass and hi-hat, before re-engaging the snare and working the other cymbals.
Twenty Five is not just a celebration of the Yellowjackets' longevity. It's also a snapshot of their past, a portrait of their present, and a canvas for their future. While "Geraldine may be an easily recognizable melody for longtime fans, it's different every time the group plays it. That is the mark of a band that's been around a long time and has the creative energy to continue to evolveand make great musicfor another 25 years.
Personnel: Rusell Ferrante: acoustic piano, synthesizers; Jimmy Haslip: electric bass; Bob Mintzer: tenor
saxophone, EWI; Marcus Baylor: drums.