CD review: Yellowjackets

riseA Rise In The Road
(Mack Avenue MAC1073)

I felt moderately bereft when this band lost its, considering its history, fairly recently-acquired drummer Marcus Baylor. The pain was assuaged by the return of previous Yellowjacket William Kennedy behind the kit. So what was I to make of this release, the first without bassist Jimmy Haslip?

Haslip, with keyboard player Russell Ferrante, had founded the ‘jackets an extraordinary 32 years ago. But Haslip took a temporary break, then made it permanent, and so Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer (a Yellowjacket for 23 years) and Kennedy had a giant hole to fill.

Well, I can’t think of a better solution than to fill that hole with a tall young man possessed of the magical surname Pastorius. And the surname is not all he shares with his father, the late Jaco. When Jaco was asked by some young techno-nerd the secret to getting his sound, Jaco replied not with details of some make of guitar, strings or effects pedal – he grinned and waggled his fingers in the kid’s face. And Felix Pastorius has those fingers, too.

He may not have that Haslip sound – we wouldn’t want him to – but he has a lovely sound of his own; deep, fat and precise, perfectly tuned in to Kennedy’s bass drum, and to Yellowjackets’ soul-jazz spirit.

Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets

So what of the music on A Rise In The Road? Well, in some ways there are no surprises there, just more of those expertly constructed tunes and structures that Ferrante and Mintzer seem to be able to churn out at will, coupled with the stylish playing of the most expert kind, and seemingly effortlessly creative improvisations.

The opener,When The Lady Dances, is a reassuring start – the personnel might have changed but don’t be alarmed, they seem to be saying, here’s a mid-tempo groove that is full of soulfulness topped by one of those loping, twisting tunes – played in sync by Mintzer and Ferrante – that has a lot more in common with a bebop melody than some fusion riff.

Mintzer channels some pipe band swirls for his piece Civil War, while Ferrante enjoys a punning title – We Can’t Elope – for his near-Cantaloupe Island summer groover, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire joins the band here as well as on another pair of Ferrante compositions.

The final piece is an acknowledgement of their new bass player and his lineage – Mintzer calls it I Knew His Father.

Overall the Yellowjackets are a strong as ever and this is a prime example of their art.



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