(Ronnie Scott’s. 26 July 2023. Live review by Aaron Liddard(*))
American groups sometimes struggle to turn in their most passionate performances in the UK. Having toured with an American group I got an insight into the stresses involved. Long travel, bad weather, strange accents, small hotel beds, small roads full of corners, strange food, even stranger beer, and our special brand of musical appreciation. While the band suffered a logistical nightmare arriving in the UK, happily they reached beyond it and gave us a delightful, heartwarming gig.
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Bob Mintzer was one of the first tenor players to light me up as a young player, having graduated from the David Sanborn school of alto, and moving my sights onto tenor. He’s still my favourite living tenorman, a monster player who has all the chops but opts out of using them most of the time. In my eyes this makes him a nobleman, a producer playing a saxophonist. He plays what’s needed to reach the emotions, to honour the music, and no more. And that’s why I’d prefer him as my idol to others. He did a lot of that at Ronnie’s, but he also let rip a little too. And his EWI work was also beautifully passionate.
Will Kennedy is just astounding. He barely touches the drums and yet his groove is immense. There’s no denying the Kennedy shuffle and I’ve grown an understanding that he’s doing exactly what we presume all drummer do – powering the band along, making every build and curve and peaks, bringing the solos to an apex and basically curating the whole set. Only thing is, he does it with barely any sound, which makes a lot of space. It’s the space that makes sound into music. If all the notes are played at the same time what you get is called White Noise, the aural equivalent of water boarding. Space is the place. The more space the more place for invention, imagination, contemplation, opportunity and, dare I say it, spirituality. In my opinion, Will Kennedy plays drums in a way that lifts the Jackets to spiritual heights. Inspiring.
Russell Ferrante is just joyous. The man grins from ear to ear and bounces around from piano to keyboard. Chords, melodies, bass lines, chordal melodies, textures, spaces (!) the man is pure interplay with an emphasis on play. This is a rare feat in a musician tackling some crazy, advanced musical shit. Many others wear a perma-frown as they navigate through their trickier material. Not Russell. Ear to ear.
Typically for a fan, it’s taken me a while to get used to the “new guy”, Dane Alderson, who as Mintzer jokes, is younger than the 43 years the band has been running. It seems to this observer that Alderson has been on an ongoing baptism of fire with seemingly divergent aims: push the Jackets to reach new heights while simultaneously matching Kennedy’s minimalist approach to power; step into Haslip’s massive shoes but make his own dance. A man on a tightrope? To my sensibilities he achieved the sweet spot on this occasion, playing more gently while visibly putting every essence of emotion into each note, and still managing to appear relaxed and happy. The result was a unified and balanced whole rather than the 3/4 + 1/4 I’d felt previously. Sensitivity appears to have taken centre stage and the result was spellbinding. Tonight Dane found the balance and the guys seem to play with effortless forward motion. He gave them enough push to inspire stretching, but left enough space so as not to pull spotlight. Overall there was spirited zest.
About half way through the set, the band began giving us their mega-mix, their greatest hits. We loved it and the band started playing their asses off. From the sweetest of ballads to angular power fusion it felt to me that we were getting 100%.
After the show Bob told me he was almost delirious. I’m sorry for theirs travel woes, but loved hearing them teetering on the edge. The four horsemen, these guys stole victory from the jaws of defeat.
This was my fifth time hearing Yellowjackets. And for me it was the most uplifting and inspiring.
(*) Aaron Liddard is a saxophonist/bandleader. His next gig as leader is at Pizza Express Holborn on 10 August. Details and tickets