To their loyal fans they're simply known as "Y-J." To everyone else they're the Yellowjackets. Not those pesky, little yellow-and-black insects, but the instrumental jazz group with 18 albums to its credit. VOA's Doug Levine has the latest "buzz" on these versatile veterans of contemporary jazz.
2006 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Yellowjackets debut album, and to celebrate they've released one of their most listener-friendly collections yet, Altered State.
Performing "March Majestic," is longtime Yellowjacket member Bob Mintzer on tenor sax, with newcomer Marcus Baylor on drums, and original members Jimmy Haslip on bass and Russell Ferrante on keyboards.
Haslip and Ferrante joined forces in the late-1970s with jazz-rock guitarist Robben Ford. Wanting to broaden their musical horizons, the Robben Ford Band evolved into the Yellowjackets, a name Haslip came up with because it had a sting to it.
Although some top-notch players have come and gone over the years, the Yellowjackets trademark "rhythm and jazz" sound has stayed intact. The reason, according to Russell Ferrante, is being a part of what he calls "a musical family." He says, "The most distinctive quality of the band is its collaborative spirit. There is no leader. We trust each other [and] with that trust comes the understanding that we each have the freedom and responsibility to shape the music."
That collaborative spirit is evident all throughout Altered State. From the sultry rhythms of Marcus Baylor's "Free Day" to Bob Mintzer's second-line swing on "March Majestic," musical boundaries fade away.
Adding to the Yellowjackets' celebration is a song with a message everyone can relate to.