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Yellowjackets: Timeline

Ian Patterson By

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Timeline is Yellowjackets' 21st album, in a career spanning 30 years—an impressive return, and an indication of the group's enduring appeal and continued motivation and commitment to making music. As ever, there are signs of evolution, with the addition of trumpet widening the sonic palette. However, pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante's sparing use of synthesizer— which has given an orchestral depth to much of the group's music over the years—and saxophonist Bob Mintzer's switch from EWI to bass clarinet, steers the music as close to acoustic jazz as it's ever been.

The drummer's door revolves once more, with Marcus Baylor ending a ten-year stint with the band to be replaced by Will Kennedy, who first held that position from ' 87 to '98 . A guest appearance by original Yellowjacket guitarist, Robben Ford, adds to the celebration, but there's a stronger sense of "business as usual" here, and Timeline sounds instantly recognizable as classic Yellowjackets: melodious; well-crafted compositions; beautiful balladry; and fine individual and collective playing.

Stylistic diversity has always characterized Yellowjackets' music and Timeline is no exception. "What is It" lays down a grooving beat, over which Mintzer overlays tenor sax and bass clarinet, while Ferrante's electric piano has the percussive bite of a vibraphone. The cheery head could almost have come from a late '70s Weather Report album. There's a fair quota of bop-inspired playing, particularly on "Tenacity," which features a fine piano solo and short but thrilling drum break. This track and the Elvin Jones-inspired swing of "Like Elvin" feature a first for the Yellowjackets in the trumpet of John Diversa, who brings warmth to the unison lines, though a solo would have stirred things up a tad more.

Kennedy's "Rosemary" provides arresting contrast between polyrhythmic bustle and core lyricism, and is a showcase for Mintzer's quite personal tenor voice. The history of the band could perhaps be divided into before-and-after-Mintzer, as the saxophonist /composer has helped shape Yellowjackets' music to a significant degree since coming onboard twenty years ago. Warm lyricism also defines the title track—though the band shifts up a couple of gears towards the end in a stirring finale, which fades out teasingly—while the a slow burning funk/R&B of Ferrante's "Magnolia," co-written with Yellowjackets co-founder/bassist Jimmy Haslip, features Ford's bluesy wah-wah contortions.

When the dust settles, however, this album will perhaps be remembered for the quality of the ballads. The melodic tenor saxophone intro to "My Soliloquy" is gorgeous, and Mintzer evokes the bluesy melanchoy of saxophonist John Coltrane at his most pensive. Ferrante's solo is no less impressive for its emotive impact and succinctness. Ferrante's "Indivisible" has a stylish classical air, while this fine set closes with the achingly beautiful "I Do," which surely deserves lyrics to crown its innate poetry.

The energy and creativity sparked by the quartet's interaction, honed over three decades now, results in one of Yellowjackets' finest albums, and it sounds like that there is plenty of gas left in the tank.

Track Listing: Why is It; Tenacity; Rosemary; Timeline; Magnolia; A Single Step; Indivisible; Like Elvin; My Soliloquy; Numerology; I Do.

Personnel: Russell Ferrante: piano, keyboards; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Bob Mintzer: saxophones, bass clarinet; Will Kennedy: drums, keyboards; Robben Ford; guitar (5); John Daversa: trumpet (2, 8).

Title: Timeline | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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