Saturday, April 16, 2016


Label: Mack Avenue

 Coherence plays a huge role in the Yellowjackets’ third Mack Avenue album — the latest in a string of hit-makers in a 35-year period. In a play on the word but not the meaning, the modern jazz-R&B quartet came out of the studio after almost two days with 10 originally composed and arranged compositions for the fusion set.

Cohearence showcases the musicians as composers and as a cohesive collective of lyrical instrumentalists fond of improvising on the spot, adding to an already solid, harmonious foundation on the written charts. The album will come out on April 22.

Original founder Russell Ferrante (keys) is sustained by longtime Yellowjackets recruits Bob Mintzer (reeds) and Will Kennedy (drums), along with hot newcomer Dane Alderson, an Australian electric bassist. Ferrante, Kennedy, and Mintzer contributed nine of the 10 songs for the new album, with one special cover of a folk song,” Shenandoah,” from the final episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom.” All of the musicians who currently make up the Yellowjackets weighed in on the final product in progress.

The album title refers to the band’s constant, its strength in numbers. “It means we're all connected to what we're doing as a band,” Ferrante explained in a March 4 DL Media release. “We're making harmonious statements.” Those statements rely on an inherent synergy that balances harmony, feel, chops, and a sweet spot for the melodic, rhythmic beat.

The Yellowjackets first branded their melodic, rhythmic, electric fusion with guitarist Robben Ford in a time 35 years ago when musicians were going acoustic jazz. Needless to say, their jazz counterparts questioned the fusion funk slide as a step back.

Thirty-five years later, who’s laughing now? The Yellowjackets are still going strong, continuing to find newer fusions in a sound that just keeps growing. The band took longer than normal to workshop and vet the songs from this upcoming release. They performed the songs live last year for five months while on the road before going into the studio to record.

“We spent a lot more time with the music than we usually do before we record. We rehearsed the songs by playing them live, so that when we went into the studio we weren't just playing our first impressions of the music. Then, we recorded totally live in less than two days,” Ferrante elaborated. The keyboardist flexes his composing acumen, writing five of the 10 songs on the album.

“We write music that reflects what fascinates us; music that's worth exploring,” Ferrante said. “I compose to work though ideas and workshop a piece, bring it into the laboratory to work on the compositional elements and make the piece a vehicle for improvisation.”

In the two advanced preview tracks sent to media, it’s very clear the Yellowjackets still have their accessible R&B fusion vibe – a modern riff from the revered, upstanding jazz fusion ensemble of the 1970s Weather Report. The Yellowjackets’ vibe easily crosses over into the mainstream market, making them one of the most imitated fusion bands around.

The opening track, Ferrante’s “Golden State,” references the band’s jazz-funk heyday of the 1980s. It’s rhythmically sound, one step away from a dance beat, but grounded in jazz by Mintzer’s sax. Ferrante wrote about the relentless, neverending rush hour of Interstate 5’s North-South Freeway up and down California — in left-hand piano triplet rhythm and riffs connecting harmoniously with sax. “I wanted to capture the energy and activity of the I-5,” Ferrante explained.

Another patented Yellowjackets number is “Eddie’s In The House,” a vibrant R&B, funked-up ode to the late jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris, who influenced Ferrante greatly. Harris and pianist Les McCann’s 1969 soul-jazz album Swiss Movement became a bridge from R&B to jazz for the prolific composer.

“There's a lot of gratitude,” Ferrante said about the Yellowjackets’ 35 years making jazz-funk fusion. “It's never been a given to us that we'd continue to be able to have the opportunity to write and record for that length of time. But you couldn't have that in place unless you had a band of generous, giving musicians, none of whom have ever been ego'ed out.”

1  Golden State   
2  Guarded Optimism   
3  Anticipation   
4  Inevitable Outcome   
5  Trane Changing   
6  Eddie's in the House
7  Fran's Scene   
8  Child's Play   
9  Shenandoah   
10 Cohearance

Russell Ferrante (keys)
Bob Mintzer (reeds)
Will Kennedy (drums)
Dane Alderson (electric bass)