Friday, April 22, 2011

The Yellowjackets: Timeline

Mack Avenue Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Timeline

The Yellowjackets are an institution. The band has been around for more than 30 years, beginning in 1977 as a unit called the Robben Ford Group; the first album under the Yellowjackets name was recorded in 1981.

This is the group’s 21st release and, although the personnel has varied over the years, most of the original artists still are present. Today’s members include Russell Ferrante on keyboards and synthesizer, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Will Kennedy on drums, and Bob Mintzer on reeds. Original guitarist Robben Ford and trumpeter John Diversa pop up as guest artists.

What set this band apart, when it came on the scene, was its combination of R&B and straight-ahead jazz genres. As time passed, the band’s sound delivered less of the former and more of the latter, but the ability to swing like crazy always was present.

The 11 tracks here consist of a little old and a lot new, mostly composed by Mintzer and Ferrante.

This session blasts off with a couple of burners: “Why Is It” and “Tenacity.” Both will get your attention, and set your heart to thumping. Kennedy’s “Rosemary” is a neat treatment of a ballad, which demonstrates how a drummer can be lyrical; “Timeline,” the title piece, is a cohesive little swinger that arrives — then departs — all too quickly. “Magnolia,” originally presented on a 2008 album — and the vehicle for Ford’s guest appearance — demonstrates how much electronic technology has meant to the guitar. The remaining tunes, all done as ballads, illustrate just how beautifully this quartet can perform.

With offerings like these, it’s clear that the Yellowjackets can be with us as long as they desire.

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