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Yellowjackets with Mike Stern: Lifecycle

Woodrow Wilkins By

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For the better part of three decades, Yellowjackets have insisted and persisted on doing things their own way and by themselves. So it's fitting that when they deviate from their normal approach and bring in guitarist Mike Stern, the resulting project is titled Lifecycle.

The first Yellowjackets recording in fifteen years to feature a guitarist, Lifecycle brings together two powerhouses in modern music. The quartet of Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Bob Mintzer and Marcus Baylor has stood the test of time with creative melodies and brilliant solos, while Stern has carved his own path with his distinctive electric guitar play. On this album, the two forces sound like they've been playing side-by-side all along.

This seamless union is evident on "Falken's Maze." Composer Mintzer shares the lead with Stern, while Baylor's broken-time drumming and Haslip's bass add emphasis. Stern delivers a rapid-fire solo while Ferrante and others provide support; Ferrante and Mintzer also soloing, on piano and tenor sax, respectively.

Stern composed the playful "Double Nickel," where Baylor's snare and hi-hat work, combined with Haslip's sharp bass licks, help keep this track moving along. Stern's speed and accuracy are in top form. Like several tracks, this composition is part modern music and part old-school, straight-ahead jazz. This is particularly noticeable during Mintzer's solo—the way he twists and turns through notes—followed by Ferrante's piano and Jimmy Haslip's subtle but powerful bass play.

Ferrante's "Measure of a Man" is one of three tracks the group recorded without Stern. This elegant ballad features Mintzer on soprano sax, while Ferrante—in his solo—straddles the line between jazz and classical music. And even Mintzer's improvisation sounds at times like it was meant for a symphony. Baylor's low-key work, on the cymbals and toms, helps underscore this track.

Mintzer takes to the electronic wind instrument (EWI) on "Yahoo," an upbeat selection that has a strong, South African flavor. Haslip and Baylor give it some extra punch, but it's Mintzer's lead which carries this tune.

All ten songs on Lifecycle are original compositions, with two by Stern. The running times range from just under five minutes to seven and a half, giving the ensemble plenty of freedom to roam. While clearly in the groove as a group, the Yellowjackets and Stern also give each musician space for individual expression, making for a lively, free-spirited album.

Track Listing: Falken's Maze; Country Living; Double Nickel; Dreams Go; Measure of a Man; Yahoo; I Wonder; 3 Circles; Claire?s Closet; Lazaro.

Personnel: Russell Ferrante: piano, keyboards, percussion; Jimmy Haslip: electric bass, programming and sequencing (10); Bob Mintzer: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, B-flat clarinet, EWI; Marcus Baylor: drums, percussion; Mike Stern: guitars.

Title: Lifecycle | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Heads Up International

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