Amid the oversaturated din of the entertainment landscape, Yellowjackets have been quietly buzzing away for more than 40 years. Their initial albums, like 1983’s Mirage a Trois and 1985’s Samurai Samba, fit squarely in that slick, sophisticated, dawn-of-the-CD era that encompasses Shadowfax, Flim and the BB’s, and early Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Later on, the band enlisted cream-of-the-crop members like drummer Marcus Baylor and collaborated with greats like Bobby McFerrin, guitarist Mike Stern, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and bassist Felix Pastorius.
Their recent work has continued in that collaborative vein; 2018’s Raising Our Voice featured Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, and 2020’s Jackets XL was an orchestral team-up with Cologne, Germany’s WDR Big Band. Which brings us to Parallel Motion, featuring only one guest (vocalist Jean Baylor) and no specific angles. It simply comprises a veteran band doing their thing spiritedly, inventively, and imaginatively.
Today’s only original Yellowjacket is pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante. But there are no voids in this lineup—far from it. Tenor/soprano saxophonist Bob Mintzer has been in the band for more than 30 years, drummer Will Kennedy joined in the late ’80s for a spell and rejoined in 2010, and bassist Dane Alderson is a seven-year ’jacket.
Together on Parallel Motion, they demonstrate remarkable agility, chemistry, and borderline telepathy. “Onyx Manor” marries a buzzy drone with stairstep interplay between Mintzer and Alderson, “Samaritan” is patient and enveloping, and “Il Mio Amico” features a ravishing ascendant melody.
If fusion isn’t your thing but you’re of a certain age, Parallel Motion can act as a cozy fireplace of a listen, reminding one of when bands like this dominated the earth. But if you love this musical sphere, it doesn’t get much better than a seasoned Yellowjackets. And their newest offering simply hits—on whatever terms you want it to.