Thirty-nine years in and still dropping cracking grooves and catchy melodies, Yellowjackets return with their 25th album, which finds the quartet revisiting original material from its past discography.
If you’re like me, you’ve jumped on or off Yellowjackets’ train at various times in their career. Who could resist their eponymous 1981 debut, a blast of fresh L.A. jazz-funk? I personally dove deep during their ’86-’87 period and the burners Shades and Four Corners. Regardless of year, though, they’ve retained an instantly recognizable sound: knotty drum grooves, brain-glued melodies, clever harmonies, and extended, rip-roaring solos.
Performed by the current YJ lineup of tenor saxophonist/EWI player Bob Mintzer, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, drummer Will Kennedy, and electric bassist Dane Alderson, Jackets XL also features the WDR Big Band, which supercharges the entire event. Handily, Mintzer happens to be that band’s principal conductor, which is evident in the arrangements (seven of the 10 by Mintzer) and performances, which crackle and pop with power.
The Americana-tinged “Even Song” (Run for Your Life, 1994) shows the band’s easy way with an eighth-note groove, and the WDR horn lines are pure Mintzer magic. “Downtown” (Live Wires, 1992) skips and soars courtesy of Kennedy’s kinetic beat, blasted forward by a unison synth/brass melody; the groove changes to up-tempo swing, the darting arrangement like changing trains in Tokyo at rush hour, propelled further by a blistering Alderson bass solo. “Coherence” (Cohearence, 2016) finds composer Ferrante in minimalist mode, framing the composition in an arrangement that owes some of its color and shape to composer/arranger Maria Schneider.
A winner for Yellowjackets’ faithful base, Jackets XL may garner the band further accolades; it will surely gain them new fans.