The Yellowjackets. What a nice name. A much nicer than some bands today. ‘Arctic Monkeys’ and ‘Dashboard Confessional’ just aren’t good names. Anyway, you would expect a band with a name beginning with ‘the’ to be some sort of an Alternative influenced garage rock thing. But no, this is Jazz Fusion (and sometimes full on jazz). And apparently a very well lauded one, with more than 10 Grammy Nominations.
I first came to know of them through an interview of Bassist Jimmy Haslip, who strings the bass upside down (yup, like Hendrix). Apparently, he is quite a well known Jazz Fusion bassist. Hmm…do I like him? Yes, but he doesn’t rock my world. And neither does the rest of the band. Yet.
I had heard an earlier album of the ‘Jackets (Blue Hats, which I’ll review soon), and I immediately identified a pattern in the two albums. The first song is always a great, melodic, almost poppy tune, whereas the second one is a full on jazz tune, complete with a ticklish walking bass line. Pretty cool, but its not necessarily something I can appreciate. In the case of this album, the two tracks in question are “Go-Go” and “Monk’s Habit”. The latter track is noteworthy not for the soloing by the piano and sax (in fact, they are pretty uninvolving to me), but for the walking bassline by Haslip, which in the higher frequencies dissuades the untrained ears into believing that he is in fact thwonging away at an upright bass. Good shit. Great drumming too.
As far as the overall sound of the group is concerned, they don’t sound revolutionary by any means, but have the sound of a highly competent, tight and articulate Jazz Fusion ensemble of the highest order. This also means that they will inevitably compared to Weather Report, the grand daddy of all Jazz Fusion Bands, by which they are CLEARLY influenced.
A pleasant surprise is “Healing Waters” which has vocals on it. After the first hums, I expected a some nice lyrics invoking spurned-love-by-the-moonlight. Or something. Instead, what I got was a few ooooh’s and aaaah’s. That’s a bit like getting to meet Megan Fox dressed as a nun.
One slightly disappointing feature in this album is the lack of Haslip’s soloing. I wish he would exploit the extremely sweet voice of his bass. He chooses not to, except on one or two tracks. However, there is still some pretty great bass playing scattered throughout the album. Check out the polyrythms in “Time Squared”. They carry the song. However, Ferrante and Bob Mintzer (Saxophone) do a great job making his absence in the soloing department quite un-apparent. And as I said, the drummer is pretty good too.
A not-so-nice fact is that this album lacks good ‘tunes’. The outlining themes of the songs (called ‘Heads’, I think) aren’t really strong enough to suck me in. Of course, there are a few in which the heads are good enough, but there are too many without a real solid and memorable melody to take off from. Jazz farts, I come from a much more poppy side of music. While I’m not expecting Britney Spears hooks, I do think musicians have a responsibility not to be so indulgent as to turn away a potential fan with off-putting chords forming the main melody of the song, like in ‘V’ and ‘Claire at 18′. What do these names mean anyway?
This last issue is the major problem with this album, I feel. I’m hardly the target audience of this music, but I would have liked to be sucked into it. Good music immediately communicates to a lot of people and leaves out a few. But great music inspires and moves nearly everyone. Think The Beatles. If this album had more tunes, I probably would have loved it. I will surely do a couple of other ‘Jackets albums, but this one doesn’t quite sound right.
Care for some more 16th laden ‘Jackets songs. All reviews HERE. (Only one at the time of typing this).
More intimidating JAZZ/JAZZ FUSION stuff HERE.