by Nick Stubblefield
Legendary jazz fusion pioneers Yellowjackets closed out their residency at the Blue Note Sunday night with a hard-grooving set that included both old favorites and fun new material. The quartet played with the kind of refined smoothness that comes from more than three decades of playing together, but more importantly they conveyed a contagious sense of fun throughout. The group's longevity, despite some personnel changes over the years, stands as a testament to the quality of their musicianship.
The Yellojackets kicked things off with "When the Lady Dances" from their newest release, A Rise in the Road. Aggressively swinging drums, smooth sax lines, and funky chord stabs from the piano characterized this toe-tapper. "Golden State" explored more modern terrain, with an ostinato piano pattern laying the foundation. Pianist Russell Ferrante shined, demonstrating great versatility with different types of rhythmic grooves. "Train Changing" opened with Ferrante on a slow, lengthy solo that segued into a more classic swinging groove. Newcomer to the group, bassist Dane Alderson, stood out with his ability to switch techniques -- he could play his electric bass with the thumping quality of an acoustic on one tune, and switch to something as smooth as cream on the next.
Next up was "Imperial Strut," from The Yellowjackets first release in 1981. The piano and bass opened with a rollicking line that establishes an aggressive grooving feel. Saxophonist Bob Mintzer laid down a soaring sax melody over the top, utilizing MIDI and distorting effects reminiscent of an electric guitar. That was contrasted starkly with "Geraldine" (dedicated to Ferrante's wife), which was slow, pensive, melodic, and lush.
The mood changed again with the band's closing number, 1993's "Runferyerlife": a lightning fast swing tune with some killer turns on drums from Will Kennedy. Incredibly tight, stagnated lines were played in perfect unison on piano and sax. All in all, Yellowjackets conveyed the fun and passion you expect to hear at a jazz show, without any of the pretension.