Grooves, jazz from the Yellowjackets
From the Summer 2003 issue.
Heads Up International: 2003
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
A couple of admissions up front: One I was predisposed to dislike this disc; I'd put the Yellowjackets into my "Contemporary Jazz" category without ever having listened to them. A dismissive category. Some lamentable snobbishness from a mainstream/avant-garde jazz fan. Admission two I picked the disc out of a to-review pile simply because I liked the cover art: a colorful, off-kilter, circle/square geometry.
Happily, "Time Squared" has turned my unfair preconceptions on their ears. Put any label on it you want, this Yellowjackets' offering is a vibrant, forward-looking, exciting set of sounds. Groove-oriented, to be sure, but oh what a bunch of grooves. First-rate musicianship with catchy, memorable compositions and enough inventive keyboard and reed soloing to keep even the staunchest of mainstream jazz fans happy.
"Time Squared" opens with "Go Go", an infectious D.C. groove with a tight and snappy rhythm and smoldering tenor sax work. "Smithtown" features Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet, sounding very organic in front of the tight and solid rhythm guys. The sound here is reminiscent of some of Bob James' smaller combo things, and the juxtaposition of loose deep reed sound and machine precision rhythm is captivating.
Jim Haslip plays bass here; Marcus Baylor does drums and percussion; and as good as the front line of Mintzer (reeds) and Russell Ferrante (keyboards) are, it seems it's the joined-at-the-hip bass/drum team that defines the Yellowjackets. Crisp, razor-edge rhythm as a backdrop for Ferrante and Mintzer's songs and soloing.
Ferrante's "V" features some of the keyboardist's more thoughtful piano work; and "Claire at 18" is a gorgeous, dreamy ballad with Mintzer slightly gritty tenor in front of Ferrante's spare-yet-nimble piano and lush (without being overdone) synthesizer backdrop.
Marvelous, modern sounds. An absolutely first-rate jazz CD, with enough front line improve to please the mainstream jazz fan, and filled with the good groove to get him dancing.
Lessons learned: Shuck the labels and just listen; and if the cover art catches your eye, put the CD on the stereo. You might be in for a nice surprise.
Review by Dan McClenaghan. Dan is a writer living in Oceanside, Calif. Read his biography on his AllAboutJazz.com page.