The legendary Yellowjackets meet ‘A Rise In The Road’ without skipping a beat
The first question on everyone’s mind is: Will the Yellowjackets sound the same without its original, co-founding member, bassist Jimmy Haslip? On the iconic band’s second album off Mack Avenue Records, the answer arrives by the second track, saxophonist Bob Mintzer’s “Civil War.”
It’s unequivocal. The Yellowjackets sound different, but still righteous, Felix Pastorius taking Haslip’s place without missing a beat. When Haslip decided to make his Yellowjackets hiatus a permanent retirement, the other long-time members had to come up with a suitable replacement, a daunting task. They’d heard of Pastorius, on his own, and through his father, the late Jaco of the Weather Report. Mintzer — who’d played big band with the senior Pastorius post-Weather Report — sat in at a Jeff Coffin Mu’ Tet gig to get a feel for Felix firsthand, liked what he heard, and tucked that away for later during the audition process.
“We do miss Jim, without a doubt. Whenever you change personnel in a partnership band like this one, things change dramatically. But somehow, this core of what the Yellowjackets is about remains; it transforms in one direction or another. But there is this strong sense of collaboration and strength in numbers that I seldom find in groups where there typically is a leader. ‘A Rise In The Road’ is the next chapter of the Yellowjackets. We welcome Felix Pastorius to the fray and are grateful to have the opportunity to express ourselves in a way that reflects where we are all at in this very moment.” –Bob Mintzer
The rest of the band members went on a good solid eight months of gigs last year with Felix Pastorius just to seal the deal and get a better feel for the new band dynamic. “That shined some light on the situation. As opposed to a detriment, it was more of an opportunity for us to grow and expand with a different combination of voices within our group. It turned out to be a pleasant experience, and it continued on into the recording process,” drummer/secondary keyboardist William Kennedy explained.
The result on this new record, released June 25, is a flawless execution of the deeply grooved, deeply considered contemporary, edgy jazz concept — with very few overdubs, not the band’s usual M.O. “On several of our records there were extensive overdubs. But on A Rise In The Road, it was mainly just the four of us playing live,” Mintzer said. “There were a couple of little overdubs, but not nearly as much as previous albums. We accomplished a big, big sound. It sounds pretty wide for just four guys!”
The Yellowjackets kept to their original formula, which helped as well. This is a band all about collaboration. Once the composer releases his song into that collaborative group, it’s open season, the ultimate jazz democracy. This gave every one of the 10 songs on the new album that trademarked, cohesive Yellowjackets feel.
A Rise In The Road, the second album by the Yellowjackets off Mack Avenue Records, and the first without bassist Jimmy Haslip, delves deftly into the ingenuity of catchy, complex melody, harmonic lines layered gently over one another, and an overall memorable, hazy feel of nostalgia in the making. The Ferrante/Mintzer/Kennedy production equals that of previous efforts while putting forth a younger, unexpected vibe thanks to the infusion of the seamless Pastorius and special guest artist, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire — another first.
It’s no wonder the album hit #1 on iTunes Jazz straight out of the gate.
Pastorius was able to play his father’s bass on a few of the tracks, thanks to Metallica’s Robert Trujillo who loaned it out for this project. It was the first time in 30 years for that bass and that sound on this new endeavor.
“This album hits the sweet spot that jazz can hit for me, creating a mood both reflective and celebratory. Russell Ferrante’s piano evokes a range of emotion through this 10-song set, but it all feels good — to the ear and to the soul.” –Chico News & Review by Jaime O’Neill, June 20, 2013
Akinmusire lent his considerable chops and intuitive terrain on Ferrante’s raucous, almost avant-garde jazz piece, “An Amber Shade Of Blue,” the Herbie Hancock-inspired “Can’t We Elope,” and the tantric frolic, “An Informed Decision.” The winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz and Carmen Caruso International Trumpet Solo Competitions holds his own and gets to be a part of Yellowjackets history (the band has only incorporated the trumpet into its music recently on this the second consecutive album).
“We do miss Jim, without a doubt,” Mintzer said. “Whenever you change personnel in a partnership band like this one, things change dramatically. But somehow, this core of what the Yellowjackets is about remains; it transforms in one direction or another. But there is this strong sense of collaboration and strength in numbers that I seldom find in groups where there typically is a leader. A Rise In The Road is the next chapter of the Yellowjackets. We welcome Felix Pastorius to the fray and are grateful to have the opportunity to express ourselves in a way that reflects where we are all at in this very moment.”
“Civil War” confirms that the Yellowjackets have entered the building just as intact and cohesive as ever despite the personnel changes. Horns are bold, in harmonious line with the piano and bass bottom, yet still dance around in a most catchy melody held in place with a dramatic, indelibly soft against hard Yellowjackets sound that keeps them shy of the mindless dentist office kind of smooth jazz and firmly in the realm of contemporary jazz with edge. Outstanding notes include the saxophone flirting in and out of the main line and the cascading piano solo echoing that memorable opening melody.
“Longing” by Russell Ferrante is many things. It’s the tender caress of piano and the pull of horns, featuring a haunting, floating melody, yet a study in a conflagration of quiet yearning and conflicted tension wrapped up in music. Like two hands reaching out, intertwined, after a long journey searching for true love.
“An Amber Shade of Blue” possesses insane horn structure, disintegrating and reintegrating into one blissfully tormented ruse.
“(You’ll Know) When It’s Time,” another romantic Ferrante showstopper, heightens the saxophone as a sexy, seductive animal, from the very first series of teasing, grasping notes, while the piano acts as a fragile ballet undertone.
Throughout A Rise In The Road, especially on “(You’ll Know) When It’s Time,” there’s a sense of melancholy and loss, as the years rush by and the memories pass, the people fading in and out. Certainly this theme was meant to be, considering the Yellowjackets’ own history.
The heart of the band, pianist Russell Ferrante, confirmed as much, “It’s about the challenges that people face in their lives and whatever path they are on: It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s not always a level road. Certainly, over the 32 years that we’ve been a band, we’ve had things come up, challenges such as musicians that have left the band, business people, relationships that you have built over the years. Things come to an end, and you have to meet the challenge and keep going forward.”
The Yellowjackets, with new bassist Felix Pastorius, does that.
Review first appeared in Examiner July 8, 2013.