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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Heads Up HUCD 3139



1. Falken's Maze
2. Country Living
3. Double Nickel
4. Dreams Go
5. Measure of a Man
6. Yahoo
7. I Wonder
8. Three Circles
9. Claire's Closet
10. Lazaro
Russell Ferrante - Piano, keyboards, percussion
Bob Mintzer - Tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, Bb clarinet, EWI
Jimmy Haslip - Electric bass, programming, sequencing
Marcus Baylor - Drums, percussion
Mike Stern - Guitars

The Yellowjackets are usually a quartet but for this CD they welcomed guitarist Mike Stern as their special guest on seven of the ten tracks. Stern makes a significant contribution - not only extending the group's palette of sound but also contributing a couple of his own compositions (Double Nickel and Dreams Go). Stern's seemingly lazy, legato guitar gives a laid-back feeling to some tracks. On other tracks, it spices up what is already a spicy mix.

If you wanted to pigeon-hole the Yellowjackets, you might say they are playing like Weather Report might have played if that band had stayed together for many more years. The Yellowjackets' style still embraces jazz-fusion but, as I suggested in an earlier album review, their range is far wider. They play with plenty of sophistication, which is augmented by Mike Stern. In fact the band originally included a guitarist (Robben Lee Ford) but that was 15 years ago and, after several personnel changes, this is the group's twentieth album.

With the band's long experience, it was easy for them to assimilate Mike Stern, who sounds as if he has been playing with them for years. On Mike's own Dreams Go, Ferrante and Mintzer blend perfectly with Stern's dreamy guitar. As Stern says "It's so easy to play with them because they play so well together". Yet the band retains its individuality at the same time, as in Measure of a Man, featuring Bob Mintzer's eloquent soprano sax and Ferrante's shimmering piano.

For contrast, Yahoo finds the group in jazz-fusion territory, as Mike Stern's guitar comes across with punch. I Wonder - by the same composer, Bob Mintzer - twists and turns mysteriously, with Bob apparently playing the EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument), which sounds a bit like something that Eddie Harris might have used in his heyday. Mike Stern is far from laid-back here: doing the guitar hero bit with conviction. Three Circles displays the band's urbane abilities with complex rhythms, while Claire's Closet sounds almost like a piece of classical chamber music, with Mintzer on pure-toned clarinet.

The album's closer, Lazaro, is marred by some unnecessary electronic gimmickry from Jimmy Haslip but, by the time I got this far, I could forgive almost anything this marvellous band does.

Tony Augarde





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