Everyone’s a Yellowjackets fan
For well over 35 years, give or take Robben Ford’s first 1977 solo album, the Yellowjackets brought pleasure to countless hordes of up-and-coming jazz musicians and jazzheads like Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, looking for a different deal: melodic escapes wrapped up in swarms of layered, straight-ahead fusion.
In this day and age of manufactured, machine-generated digital Muzak, very few real, live bands of world-renown remain. The Yellowjackets is one of them. This jazz-fusion band returns to Seattle’s Jazz Alley tomorrow for a two-day run.
The two-time-Grammy®-winning Yellowjackets has been around since 1977, when the great jazz/rock-fusion guitarist Robben Ford enlisted a few of his session musician friends, including bassist Jimmy Haslip, the late drummer Ricky Lawson, and keyboardist Russell Ferrante — relative unknowns — for his next, 1979 record, The Inside Story.
The Inside Story turned out to be mostly forgettable, but sparked the invention of one of the biggest, most-copied, most-revered jazz-fusion bands in the world.
Working on Ford’s solo album definitely sparked something good, and another band within a band emerged in time for the ground-breaking, Billboard Jazz-topping (#16), self-titled debut, the June 1981album of immeasurable appeal — on both sides, jazz and mainstream — under the Warner Brothers label.
The Yellowjackets continued to evolve with different musicians and a different sound all their own. Robben Ford, Peter Erskine, Terri Lyne Carrington, Felix Pastorius, the late Jaco’s son, Jimmy Haslip, Paulinho Da Costa, Marc Russo, Ricky Lawson, Mike Stern, and Michael Landau have all been a part of or collaborated with the band at one point or another.
Six-time Grammy-nominated Stern gave them a flourish in the 2008 Lifecycle album (Heads Up International, Concord Music Group), the first in 15 years to feature guitar — and another Billboard Jazz chart topper, #6… all the result of major chemistry during a Montreal Jazz Fest performance the summer before.
Count Steely Dan as a huge Yellowjackets fan.
Frontman and founder, keyboardist Donald Fagen even wrote the title track for the Yellowjackets’ 1986 MCA record, Shades, as a tribute. Jonathan Butler, Brenda Russell, and Kurt Elling guested on the Grammy-nominated 1998 studio album, Club Nocturne, cementing the band’s reputation as a bonafide crossover hit.
The Yellowjackets started off as a righteous electronic jazz-fusion band, layering melodic riffs with harmonic standoffs, grooving off a churning funk/world beat rhythm. As the years rolled into decades, the band absorbed the best of the trends and traditions out there, reinventing and voluminizing as it went along…keeping the core values of that melodic streak and funky, churning groove infinitely intact and vibrant.
Equally adept in acoustic jazz, vocals — wordless and otherwise, and taking a stand, the Yellowjackets released the socio-political album, Raising Our Voice, on Mack Avenue Records last September, featuring guest singer Luciana Souza.
The album is the band’s fourth with Mack Avenue.
Souza seamlessly blends her lavish, lush wordless and Portuguese/English vocals in seven of the Yellowjackets’ 13 tracks, humanizing some of the more appealing flights of melody and grounding the spectacle of sound with the ancient, empathic emotion known simply as love.
“They’re killers. They’re so serious yet also so much fun,” the Brazilian singer said of the experience. “We laughed a lot during the sessions. Their curiosity is alive, and their joy is to make great music. I was originally going to just do three songs, but it ended up that I’m on over half the record.”
The current Yellowjackets lineup is comprised of keyboardist Russell Ferrante, the only original member, with saxophonist Bob Mintzer, drummer Will Kennedy, and the newest addition as of 2015, Australian bassist Dane Alderson.
“The band keeps moving forward. It’s one of the few partnership bands in the last four decades. It’s democratic, laissez-faire and accommodating to everyone in the band to contribute. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves as a reflection of what’s happening in the world,” Mintzer explained in press for the band’s latest record. The saxophonist has been a member since 1990.
The Yellowjackets look to combine two impossible worlds, jazz and the mainstream, for two memorable Jazz Alley shows, as a part of their ongoing global tour.
Tuesday and Wednesday shows are 7:30 p.m.; doors open 6 p.m.
Artist quotes are from a DL Media press release for Raising Our Voice.