Perhaps because of their name, I've always associated the Yellowjackets with smooth jazz. I began to think I was off the mark when I heard Old School: New Lessons, a side project by the band's tenor sax player, Bob Mintzer. Mintzer's arrangements for his big band on that disc were thoughtful, energetic, and gutsy, as was his own playing. Twenty Five causes me to further revise my opinion of the band. While I was familiar with the varied and impressive accomplishments of bassist Jimmy Haslip, I didn't realize that this band, for all its accessibility, is soulful and intelligent. If smooth-jazz stations play the Yellowjackets, the energy level of the programming rises considerably.
Twenty Five celebrates the bands silver anniversary by presenting two live performances, one on CD and one on DVD, recorded in France and Italy last year. The Yellowjackets chose tunes from their 20 previous recordings for both discs, and its a pleasing mix. Some of the selections could be described as soul jazz, solidly built around Russell Ferrantes gospel-tinged piano playing, while other compositions, such as "Free Day" or "My Old School," show a faint Weather Report influence. The ensemble playing is precise and melodic, the solos energetic and often fiery.
The CD has a rich, deep soundstage that puts you in the middle of the audience. The 5.1 surround mix on the DVD is atmospheric, but I preferred the energy of the two-channel mix. The DVD also includes performance footage from earlier stages in the bands career. Make no mistake, the Yellowjackets play a commercial brand of jazz, but they do it well, and with brains.
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