Yellowjackets' music is steeped in the R&B/jazz tradition of the Jazz Crusaders, Junior Mance, Weather Report, and, of course Miles. Russell Ferrante always manages to slip a bit of church into his piano playing, a trend quickly picked up and absconded with by Bob Mintzer. Jimmy Haslip plays the most elastic bass since Victor Bailey, and Marcus Baylor must be the toast of the percussion town.
The band members all come together for Altered State in a brilliant kind of sacrament, a funky communion bearing little darkness or moodiness. This is incredible happy and effervescent music. The opening piece, "Suite 15," provides the best glimpse into their electrically sanctified world. In a very real way, "Suite 15" extends the character of the traditional jazz chorus, all of the instruments playing a crazy but righteous counterpoint off one another.
"Suite 15" is followed by the burping reggae of "March Majestic." Indeed and march, this piece stands also as an extension of the traditional jazz of New Orleans. Mintzer's tenor is soulful and expressive, Ferrante's left hand insistent and driving. "The Hope" is a vocal piece featuring Jean Baylor and company again infusing this adult contemporary jazz with Horace Silver's spiritual message of funk and fun.
The Jimmy Haslip compositions are quirky and complex and immediately identifiable as his own. "Youth Eternal" demonstrates all of these traits of Mr. Haslip's writing. Ferrante's "57 Chevy" is a fun ride with an almost Aaron Copland-like piano line. Baylor's understated drumming commands the song with its delicacy and rhythm. The Yellowjackets are a densely cohesive unit that continues to play and write with spunk and spontaneity. Altered State is a wildly consistent and evenly enjoyable recording.