Jazz Fusion is an ever-evolving genre. With so many things to try, and so many people trying them, it’s not going away any time soon. The Yellowjackets have been a mainstay of jazz fusion since the late 70s, and with their latest release “Raising Our Voice”, they prove they are not going away anytime soon either.
Led by longtime member Russell Ferrante on the keys, the quartet is filled out by Bob Mintzer on sax, Will Kennedy on drums, and Dane Alderson on bass. You might be thinking, “What’s so special about another Yellowjackets album? It’s just the same thing. Again.” But there you would be wrong. For the first time in their history, the Yellowjackets are joined by the voice of Luciana Souza. Now you’re probably thinking “Great, not just another Yellowjackets album, another vocal jazz album.” Wrong again. Ferrante and the others masterfully incorporate Souza as a fifth instrument of sorts. This fresh take on the tried and true Yellowjackets formula is a breath of fresh air for jazz fusion- something sorely needed from a veteran group of artists to give the younger generation a push to think outside the box.
The opening track “Man Facing North” features a pseudo New Orleans style street beat, light and with plenty of space for the keys to overlay a beautiful chord progression. Then the melody comes in, played by the bass, of all instruments, and doubled by Souza. The track continues to evolve from there with the introduction of the saxophone, which builds on the melody. It’s a great opening track, setting the tone for the album.
Following the opener, “Mutuality” opens with piano and brushes on the drums. When the sax comes in, a beautiful interplay between the piano and bass begins. It almost feels like a game of catch with the lead part being tossed around. Kennedy gives a nod to Tony Williams with a nice groove change for the second half of the piano solo. This track captures the attention of the listener with its complex structure.
Track 3, “Everyone Else is Taken”, begins with a complex line of eighths from the piano which is subsequently transformed into a beautiful orchestrated sound involving everyone. Personally, I wish this idea was the main focus of the song, but it is quickly swept aside for the solo section. Kennedy’s comping is masterful, really bringing the whole song together. I would have taken a different direction if this was my album, but the great execution of the piece cannot be denied.
The fourth song “Ecuador” is an interesting use of space, which I am personally a big fan of. The execution is spot on, and Kennedy messes with the groove in unique and different ways to keep it interesting. Once solos begin, the song becomes much more straight forward, which I guess is to be expected, but is disappointing nonetheless. It’s still a great composition though.
The fifth track “Strange Time” is the first swing number on the album, and immediately showcases the harmonic abilities of the group, with an interesting choice of notes by the sax to lay over the piano chords. Ferrante really comes into his own in the solos with some of the best comping I’ve heard as of late. Kennedy and Alderson keep it tight, so overall it’s one of my favorites on the album.
Track 6, “Emerge”, is a nice break for the ears at the halfway point on the album. It has a relaxing chord progression. It serves as an intro of sorts for the next track.
Track 7, “Timeline”, is an inclusion from the 2012 album of the same name, and has a very catchy melody. The orchestration is pleasing to the ear. Souza gets a solo, and shows she is no slouch when it comes to improv. Directly afterward, it’s given back to Mintzer and he keeps the energy going perfectly. It’s a great throwback for fans.
The eighth track “Quiet” features some lyrics in Portuguese, accompanied by Ferrante and the rest of the group. It’s a nod to classic vocal jazz, which I am usually not a fan of, but this I didn’t mind. The track continues the relaxing, or calming, trend of this section of the album.
Track 9, “Divert”, starts on a fade, and features some guitar slapping overlaying the groovy bassline. It’s another break for the ears, with just a quarter of the album left to go.
The tenth track “Brotherly” brings us full circle with a groove reminiscent of the opening track. Kennedy incorporates some classic funk back-beats and spaces them with airy, Purdy shuffle-like, playing. Piano and bass make hits on upbeats in unison, giving the sax free reign to do what it does best, lead. This song is another one of my favorites.
Track 11, “Swing With it”, like the title suggests is a swing/shuffle-type groove, a nod to blues playing. It gives the album nice variety. I feel like the group could have laid back a little more, as the execution of the feel seems a little rushed and robotic. This track had so much potential, but just wasn’t quite there yet.
The twelfth track “In Search of” is another light offering, opening with drums and bass. This track really shows the group’s mastery of medium tempos, as the groove stays interesting the whole time and never gets stale. The addition of great playing from Mintzer makes this overall a great lead-in to the finale.
The final track “Solitude” is a slow and emotional end to a great listening experience. It’s almost as if the band is saying “farewell”. It’s a beautiful composition and a fitting end to the album. It showcases every member in a different way, leaving nothing left to be desired.
“Raising our Voice” may be the Yellowjackets’ best album of the last 10 years. Its masterful combination of fast and slow, complex and simple is a treat for the ears. Where does it stack up in comparison to everything else though? Out of 10 I’d rate it a solid 7. Not groundbreaking, but fresh. Not genre-defining, but it keeps your interest. If you’re a fan of their past work, or jazz fusion in general, I recommend you check it out.
Album Review By: Mica Finehart