Yellowjackets: Timeline

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Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets’ durability has to hold some kind of record. How many other jazz groups have been together for 30 years, with two players consistently in the mix?

Founding members Russell Ferrante (keyboards) and Jimmy Haslip (bass), saxophonist Bob Mintzer, aboard since 1990, and drummer Will Kennedy, who returned last year after an 11-year break, may be an institution with a signature sound, but their music doesn’t sound institutional. Rather, it’s a distinctive and seamless blend of jazz, R&B, funk, rock, fusion and crossover, bolstered by invigorating soloing and pristine production values.

These guys know how to build variety into the program, offering a little something to all the fans they’ve picked up over the course of 20 albums. Ferrante’s title track begins as a fretless bass-led ballad and exits with Mintzer’s tenor burning brightly over a groove resembling that of a gospel rave-up. Old-school R&B is at the heart of the bouncy Ferrante-Haslip tune “Magnolia,” featuring the wah-wah ministrations of founding guitarist Robben Ford, long gone. While Timeline offers a surplus of down-shifted tempos, it opens with the caffeinated jolt of Mintzer’s “Why Is It,” Kennedy’s funk punch driving a dizzying theme; Haslip performs this melody doubled up on six-string bass and contrabass clarinet. A postbop feel informs Mintzer’s “Tenacity” and “Like Elvin,” both of which benefit from the addition of guest trumpeter John Daversa, and Ferrante’s “Numerology.”