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Yellowjackets: Cohearence

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More than three decades into an artistically fertile career and the band sprung from the Robben Ford Group continues to grab ears with its appealing jazz-funk hybrid, using sophisticated compositions as springboards for often remarkable improvisations. Yellowjackets’ sound has indeed evolved, due in part to the numerous lineup changes over the years. The latest is the arrival of Australian bass guitar virtuoso Dane Alderson, to replace short-timer Felix Pastorius, who played only on 2013’s well-received A Rise in the Road. But, yes, as the title suggests, the band has developed a sound that’s instantly identifiable, doubtless owing to keyboardist and cofounder Russell’s Ferrante’s role as chief musical architect.

But familiar doesn’t mean predictable, for Cohearence, recorded live during a two-day studio sprint after the material was road-tested for five months, is satisfyingly varied. The 10-tune set includes several tracks that point to musical influences. Saxophonist Bob Mintzer’s “Guarded Optimism” offers a fast-swirling tenor line, stair-stepping bass groove and punchy keyboard hits that hint at Weather Report, while the Ferrante/Felix Pastorius piece “Trane Changing,” limned with Mintzer’s bass clarinet counterpoint, is built on a reharmonized “Giant Steps.” Ferrante’s “Eddie’s in the House,” with its low-slung, funky groove and gritty tenor head, nods to the soul-jazz of Eddie Harris.

Other musical colors shine through here, too, including Ferrante’s “Golden State,” its pulsating rhythms and urgent vibe inspired by impressions of California’s Interstate 5. His relatively laidback “Anticipation” is imbued with pastel strains of folkish Americana, and so, naturally, is Mintzer’s arrangement of “Shenandoah.” And Ferrante’s closing “Coherence” is a chamber-ish piece infused with classical strains. Does this year’s Yellowjackets model represent a fresh start, so late in the game? Why not?

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