Now, the Yellowjacket’s first, self-titled, album (Warner Bros., 1981), is on the fusion end of things, but as far as groove goes, it’s definitely strong. This version of the ensemble includes Russell Ferrante on keyboards (lots of piano, electric piano, and pretty hip synth stuff), playing some of the hottest stuff I’ve heard him play. This guy has some incredible groove chops. I once had a conversation with Carl Evans (Fattburger) about a double bill with his group and the ‘jackets. We were discussing Ferrante’s chops, feel and timing, upon which Carl commented that he’d "have to dust-off his last chop" to be on the stage with Ferrante. It’s not just speed that makes his chops, particularly on this release, it’s much more how he fits his complex riffs and comping style (and fat chord voicings) into the pocket being laid-down by drummer Ricky Lawson.
Lawson’s efforts on this release along with the support he gets from bassist Jimmy Haslip are what mark this release as groove jazz in my book. These guys are TIGHT! Of course, it’s more of a 70’s/80’s thing, with the mix on the drums and bass tone anyway, but you can get a feeling for where the pocket is on the tracks. A really good example of this is the track "Matinee Idol" which is a popular cover tune for those who like the "New Real Book Vol. 1". Ferrante’s solo passage on this track is carried by Haslip anticipating the down beat which Lawson is hitting. You know these guys loved playing this stuff!
The tracks are rounded out by the efforts of wannabe-'jacket Robben Ford on guitar who is given a lot of space on tracks like "Rush Hour". Ford’s appearance adds to the overall feel of the album and he, himself, has a lot of feel for the pocket. Other musicians appearing on the tracks include: Lenny Castro and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, Roland Bautista on guitar, Larry Williams and Gary Herberg both on tenor sax and flute, Ernie Watts (of course!) on tenor sax, Bill Reichenbach on trombone, Jerry Hey on brass, Bobby Lyle on piano, and Kim Hutchcroft on tenor and baritone saxophones. It’s also worthy to note that the release is a Tommy LiPuma production which is always a plus in my book.