CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice

Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice
(Mack Avenue MAC1137. CD Review by Peter Bacon)

It’s clear from the first minute or so of the opening track, Man Facing North, that featured vocalist Luciana Souza fits into the music of the four-man Yellowjackets a treat and that her Brazilian heritage expands the ‘jackets’ already broad genre coverage in the most natural way. Her wordless vocals track bassist Dane Alderson’s line as the band sets out its stall. Later she will do the same in harmony alongside Bob Mintzer’s tenor saxophone. Both pairings remind us, too, what graceful “vocal” qualities both Alderson and Mintzer have in the way they phrase: it’s always about the melody.

Dan Oullette quotes in his liner note Mintzer’s observation that “The band keeps moving forward” and it is that shark-like sense of momentum that has helped the Yellowjackets to do so much more than just survive 37 years and nearly 30 albums. Souza brings a lightness of touch which is also energising to their sound, in much the same way as she did with her featured track on Vince Mendoza’s 2011 album, Nights On Earth: she can take a lyric or she can be an added “horn” and slide in amongst the instruments.

The Yellowjackets started out as a jazz-fusion band and they still have that core, mainly through Russell Ferrante’s keyboards, but the drumming of William Kennedy and (in between Kennedy’s two tenures in the drum chair) Marcus Baylor gave them a funk-tinged underpinning, and Mintzer’s jazzier writing together with the soul-jazz bass of Jimmy Haslip and now Alderson, expanded their stylistic range sill further. The Brazilian touches on this album (and not just on the tracks featuring Souza) add yet further sauce to the stew.

And that is before we have got to the Bach fugue-like touches of Mutuality (which Ferrante apparently based on a Martin Luther King Jr speech and which goes through every key both major and minor in its harmony) or the hard swing of Swing With It.

For classic ‘jackets sound and excitement Ecuador ticks all the boxes for me, and it’s a renewed pleasure to be reacquainted with Timeline (from the 2011 album of the same name) which Souza decorates beautifully here, again tracking Mintzer on the melody and then adding an exquisite scat solo which called to mind Flora Purim with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. The track builds to a marvellous climax.

The stand-out Souza track is Quiet, which she wrote with Ferrante. It already sounds like a Brazilian/American standard. Mintzer’s solo is a muscular yet tender wonder.

Even by the Yellowjackets’ high standards, Raise Our Voice is an exceptional beauty. Play it loud; play it often.

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