Contemporary jazz 25 years ago – May 11, 1991

Looking back at the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart from May 11, 1991, you see some of the first recordings from the post-MCA acquisition of GRP Records. Greenhouse by Yellowjackets, Love and Understanding by George Howard, and Healing the Wounds by the Crusaders were all in the top ten.

album cover to the 1991 recording Greenhouse by the Yellowjackets

Greenhouse was the first recording featuring new saxophonist Bob Mintzer. The music continued the trajectory away from pop-jazz that had most evident in their previous recording The Spin. Mintzer is still with the quartet as is founding member Russell Ferrante and, several years away from the band, William Kennedy.

Healing the Wounds was a complete surprise when it came in to the radio station where I was volunteering. No advance notice or hype. You could pull that off in 1991. Produced by Marcus Miller, Healing the Wounds featured band founders Joe Sample and Wilton Felder in great form. I still love the opening track “Pessimisticism.” Continue reading “Contemporary jazz 25 years ago – May 11, 1991”

Summer DVDs

There’s a handful of DVD and Blu-ray releases coming out this summer that jazz fans might be interested in. A Blu-ray version of Jamiroquai’s excellent 2003 Live at Montreux is on its way. New Morning concerts by Yellowjackets and Mike Stern are coming out on both DVD and Blu-ray. Go through the carousel below to see what else you can expect!

2009 Contemporary Jazz Preview

One constant in the contemporary jazz world is the planning and reliable execution of Heads Up recordings. I just got the list for 2009 and it’s another winner for contemporary jazz fans. I’ll elaborate more in later posts but here’s what’s on the schedule:

January
Incognito – More Tales Remixed – remixes of songs from the latest Incognito release;
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Live;
Walter Beasley – Free Your Mind

February
Joe Zawinul – 75 – two-disc live set;
Pieces of a Dream – Soul Intent;
Mike Stern – New Morning The Paris Concert;
The Bad Plus Joined by Wendy Lewis – For All I Care

March
Marion Meadows – TBD;
Chuck Loeb – Between 2 Worlds;
Yellowjackets – New Morning The Paris Concert

April
Candy Dulfer; Hiroshima

May
Spyro Gyra; Zap Mama; Stanley Clarke/Hiromi/Lenny White

June
Alexander Zonjic, Andy Narell

August
Najee; Mike Stern; Joe Zawinul DVD

September
Take 6 – a new holiday recording

Review: Yellowjackets featuring Mike Stern – Lifecycle

The Yellowjackets – where do I start? How about at the beginning, when they were the back-up band for Robben Ford? Much has been written and chronicled about this early chapter of their history, especially in light of their 2006 anniversary release, Twenty-Five. I bring all this up because of the inevitable comparison that will be made between the current Yellowjackets line-up on Lifecycle and the original group with guitarist Ford – all because of the prescience of the telecaster-wielding Mike Stern. Let me start by saying that I think this current band of Haslip, Ferrante, Mintzer and Baylor along with guest Stern are by far the strongest iteration of this storied group. Ford, Russo, Lawson, Kennedy, and Erskine all contributed mightily when they were in the band but, somewhere in the late eighties, Ferrante and Haslip started to take the band, both sonically and compositionally, in a different direction. This culminated with Mintzer joining the Jackets for both Greenhouse and his own One Music in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Which leads us to Lifecycle, and the inclusion of Stern, who first joined the Yellowjackets on stage in Montreal last year. Whereas Ford has always had that blues sound, Stern’s playing is decidedly more horn-like in both his phrasing and attack which makes him the perfect foil for Mintzer. In fact, I feel that Stern could have felt right at home on any of the last four or five Jackets’ releases – his sound and compositional style are so incredibly suited to this band. I remember a night in 1990 when I was listening to the local late night jazz radio broadcast and I heard what I thought was the Yellowjackets. It turned out to be a tune from the Mike Stern-Bob Berg band, something from one or the other’s recordings, which at the time were virtually the same personnel. My point: this collaboration has been a long time coming and this version of the Yellowjackets has never sounded better or stronger. As a fan, the courage that the Yellowjackets display on Lifecycle to keep evolving the band is certainly a comfort for future endeavors.

Support ContemporaryJazz.com by buying this CD or MP3 album download through Amazon.com Buy the CD, MP3 downloads, and watch a behind-the-scenes interview at Amazon.com.
Support ContemporaryJazz.com by downloading this release from iTunes! Download Lifecycle from iTunes.

Review: Peace Round from Yellowjackets

Peace Round from YellowjacketsThe Yellowjackets celebrate the holiday season with their first complete recording of Christmas music. This is the easiest review I’ve ever had to write. If you like the Yellowjackets, or if you like the sounds of the season, buying Peace Round is a no-brainer.

Russell Ferrante notes that there are some challenges in recording a holiday collection, including making “familiar Christmas songs personal but at the same time respect their original intent and the spirit of the season.” Even before reading the press release, that’s the impression I got from listening to this CD. Yellowjackets don’t stray too far from the familiarity of songs like “Little Drummer Boy, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Deck the Halls” yet still jazz them enough to make them unique and interesting. The ten song collection also includes favorites like “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night,” “The First Noel,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The group really packs the emotion into “In a Silent Night” and “Peace Round.” The latter is a simple eight measure round that “seemed to be the perfect metaphor for the season.” Ferrante elaborates on that in the CD’s liner notes. It is a somber tune that serves as a perfect soundtrack to the Holy Night.

Of particular note is the Yellowjackets’ playing. The band has never sounded better than on this effort. It may be due to the fact that most performances are just the first or second takes with little or no overdubbing. It may also be that the band has been so busy lately and have really bonded as musicians and friends. Whatever the case may be, they have released a warm and inviting recording.