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Yellowjackets: Altered State

Woodrow Wilkins By

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There's something distinctive about Yellowjackets' sound. It's contemporary in that the music is fresh and employs some modern conveniences—such as the electric bass and the EWI. Still, the way it's put together is old school—like the free-flowing style and the manipulation of time. And if that's not enough, there's a color or flavor to Bob Mintzer's sax and Russell Ferrante's piano that lets you know it's a 'Jackets tune.

This distinctive approach is evident from the start of their new album, Altered State. With eleven tracks clocking in at an hour, and brilliant Peter Max artwork on the cover, this album is as good as—if not better than—anything the group has ever done. And that says a lot considering such past efforts as Blue Hats, Dreamland, Four Corners, Time Squared, Run For Your Life, and Mint Jam, among many others.

The title is inspired in part by a Peter Max painting commissioned by the Yellowjackets. Max, whose style defined much of the pop art sensibilities of the 1960s, provided inspiration for the Beatles film Yellow Submarine and has been a longtime fan of the 'Jackets. The quartet of Mintzer, Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, and Marcus Baylor is in true form from start to finish. And they're joined by a chorus of vocalists, featuring Baylor's wife, Jean.

Typical of the Yellowjackets, the new album is loaded with odd meters, beautiful melodies, and evocative harmonies. As if to prove the point, Altered State opens with Ferrante's "Suite 15, played at fifteen beats per bar. Jean Baylor, who appeared on the group's most recent studio outings, Time Squared and Peace Round, leads on "The Hope, backed by the Perry sisters: Sharon, Lori, Carolyn and Darlene. It is one of the few Yellowjackets songs that have lyrics. Mrs. Baylor co-wrote the piece with Ferrante and Haslip.

"Jean writes beautiful lyrics, and she's a wonderful singer, Mintzer says. "Just having her on board and in the family has enabled the Yellowjackets to craft these kinds of tunes around her and what she does.

Ferrante ventures into the odd-time realm again with "Hunter's Point, a slick piece that features some sensational rhythms and leads by Mintzer, Haslip and Marcus Baylor. However, despite the technical aspects, the music accomplishes the band's goal of creating a sound that's challenging, accessible, and entertaining. This is evident in Mintzer's "Mother Earth, as well as Haslip's funk-driven "Youth Eternal, Marcus Baylor's "Free Day, and Mintzer's moody "Cross Current.

Of course, all the songs are excellent. Otherwise, Altered State just wouldn't be a Yellowjackets album. Fans have come to expect that of these players. And on the new album, they deliver in superb fashion.

Track Listing: Suite 15; March Majestic; The Hope; Hunter

Personnel: Bob Mintzer

Title: Altered State | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Heads Up International

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