(Heads Up, 2005)
Now in their third decade as a band and one of the most reliable purveyors of quality jazz, the Yellowjackets hold true to form on Altered State, their 22nd album. It's modern-sounding traditional jazz all the way, led by Russell Ferrante on keyboards with frequent sax solos by Bob Mintzer. "Suite 15" kicks off the record in fine style with bass and piano riffing while the sax takes the melody line.
This makes the third Yellowjackets record in a row to include guest vocalist Jean Baylor on one track. Jean, formerly half of the duo Zhane, is also the wife of Yellowjackets drummer Marcus Baylor, and she has just completed her first solo album. As good as the Yellowjackets are at instrumental jazz, these occasional vocal tracks sound so great they really should consider doing a full-length album together. This time out the track is "The Hope," co-written by Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip with lyrics by Jean. The Perry sisters, Sharon, Lori, Carolyn and Darlene, add perfect-sounding background vocals.
"Hunter's Point" has an intense bass line that sets up what sounds like improvised sax solos. "Mother Earth" and "Youth Eternal" use the piano to set up the sax excursions. "Free Day" adds some nice sonic texture to the mix. The synth takes lead position on "Cross Current." "Unity" concludes the set very nicely by combining some softer, very melodic sax lines with a mellow sounding electric guitar and flute.
According to their label, artist Peter Max approached the Yellowjackets at a concert in 2003 to express how much their music had inspired his work over the years. The following year, the band gave Max some preliminary tracks from this, their forthcoming album, which provided the basis for the cover art by Max which in turn inspired the album's title. Audiophiles will appreciate that Altered State is available in both conventional stereo and SACD 5.1 surround versions. This is very listenable, uncompromising, top-quality jazz.
by William Kates