The Yellowjackets – Cohearence (2016)

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Thirty-five years old and still going strong, The Yellowjackets aren’t letting a little matter like the third bass player in as many albums break their stride. One of the top quality electric jazz bands over these three and half decades now welcomes its newest bass virtuoso in Australian Dane Alderson just in time for their latest release Cohearence (April 22, 2016, Mack Avenue Records).

Still comprising of Bob Mintzer on reeds, Will Kennedy on drums and sole remaining founding member Russell Ferrante on keys, the Yellowjackets retain plenty enough heritage to still be very much the Yellowjackets, enough that the ever-changing bass chair hadn’t prevented the band from reeling off a string of consistently strong long players at a time when most long-running concerns are winding down. Cohearence continues that winning streak.

The Yellowjackets, especially since Mintzer’s entry in the early 90s, has succeeded picking up where Weather Report left off, able to creatively use electric instrumentation while capturing the joy and feel of acoustic jazz. It’s arguably their calling card. Echoes of WR are clearest on Mintzer’s swinging “Guarded Optimism” as both he and Ferrante leave behind stellar jazz chops, first with Ferrante’s deft left hand/right hand coordination on his solo to Mintzer’s Rollins-perfect sax phrasing. On here and many other tunes, the keyboardist uses his synthesizers like Joe Zawinul, to support the mission of bop and not supplant it.

Ferrante’s “Golden State” is one of his melodies that manages to bridge traditional and modern jazz, straight-ahead and fusion. It’s pleasant to the ears while still demanding to the band, but these players get the tight syncopation required down effortlessly. Chamber elements form the foundation for Ferrante’s titular piece “Cohearence,” which has Mintzer switching over to soprano sax, but Kennedy does some sensitively dynamic drumming underneath that gives the song an unexpected drive. “Eddie’s In The House” is that gospel-tinged funk championed by the late great saxophonist Eddie Harris, while “Child’s Play” is another bop excursion but with a light, elegant touch.

A couple of tracks do creative work on familiar covers. “Shenandoah” is a perceptive rearrangement by Mintzer of an old folk tune, distinctive for the artful insertion of jazz chords. “Trane Changing” is really a variation on “Giant Steps,” where Mintzer dubs in a little bass clarinet to offer a low-end counter to his tenor lead and Alderson swings hard with some imagination.

Following in the steps of Jimmy Haslip and Pastorius (Jaco’s son Felix, that is, who is a strikingly good bassist himself) is a tough thing to live up to, and Alderson probably won’t make people completely forget about Haslip. But right off he’s a good fit for this band, probably even better than Pastorius was. Playing a seven-string bass gives him the range to match Haslip in creating those active bass figures that did much to define the band’s original sound, and the rubbery, Haslip bass impressions show up on numbers like “Inventible Outcome” while the Jaco influence makes itself know on a lyrical bass solo that matches the lightly prancing melody of “Anticipation.”

Bringing a contemporary feeling to mainstream jazz, the Yellowjackets’ superb musicianship along with insightful composing and arrangements make Cohearence maintain this group’s reputation as one of the foremost fusion groups operating. Since 1981.

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