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Yellowjackets in Concert
Dolby Digital 5.1
PCM Stereo
Inakustik  DVD 
Approximately 60 minutes
Somewhere in-between pop and jazz is the nebulous form usually called fusion. Jazz fusion takes many forms – some leaning to a harder edge that has more in common with rock than pop, with other variations leaning  more towards a consumer-friendly jazz-pop format. The Yellowjackets would fall into that second category, bringing the smoothness of commercial pop into a jazz setting. If, for example, Steely Dan is ‘jazzy’ pop, then The Yellowjackets might be ‘poppy’ jazz.
This recording is from a German Television broadcast from 1994, and is basically a straightforward mini-concert with little going on other than the music: don’t look for fancy lighting or MTV video technique. The DVD features 5.1 sound to re-create the live experience but is also a pleasure to watch with headphones on if you really want to examine the playing technique.  The six-camera set up affords a good variety of views of the band’s interaction on stage as well as intimate close-up shots of fingers on keys and fret-boards, and sticks in motion. Musicians will enjoy the tight shots of the band members’ hands (and feet) at work in perfect synch with the cleanly recorded, uncluttered sound-track.   
The songs are all instrumentals, and we’re treated to seven: “Man Facing North,” “One Minute,” “Invisible People,” “Dewey (For Miles),” “My Old School” (this is not, by the way, the Steely Dan song),  “Jacket Town,” and “Run For Your Life,” which, by the way, is not The Beatles song. Two tantalizing song titles notwithstanding, The Yellowjackets stick to original material here, even though the inclusion of covers of songs by the two groups alluded to would have been welcome for their familiarity, as well as being good potential for this group to break through to fans of both mainstream jazz and pop. The original compositions here obviously come from a musically knowledgeable place but, when all is said and done, they almost seem like excuses for the technique instead of solid, memorable songs. It would be nice to hear these talented musicians perform their magic with some more melody-driven, recognizable tunes.
This California-based quartet is made up of masterful players: Russell Ferrante on keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on (left-handed) electric bass, Bob Mintzer on Sax, bass clarinet and an electronic ‘wind’ instrument labeled ‘AKAI EW1000,’ and solid jazz-drummer, Will Kennedy. Director Michael Au brings us from the audience to the stage, allowing the viewer all-access to the players’ every move. As a matter of fact, careful viewers will perhaps be disappointed by noticing that some sounds apparently were pre-programmed and/or triggered by the keyboard – but then again, jazz purists might not be the intended audience for a band that employs an electric wind instrument, anyway….
Each song has highlights, particularly as the individual band members get their solo spots, which is where the musical passion emerges in these performances. We get an over-the-shoulder look as Ferrante and Mintzer keep careful eye contact, racing through intricate runs of notes, an up-close look at Haslip’s nimble fingers as they dance across the wide neck of the six-string bass, and watch (as if we’re in the seat next to him) as Kennedy gets his drumsticks to do a tap dance across the high-hat and strike sharply down on the snare to accent the rhythm. The musicianship is unquestionable, and it’s a delight to see these four musicians – Haslip in particular – as they delve deep into the songs.
For all of the expertise on stage, The Yellowjackets might come off too ‘textbook’ for some, and too generic for others. As previously noted, all of this wonderful technique almost exists in a ‘framework void,’ where it can be admired but not easily related to. Bottom line, though, is that this is a very well-recorded live set that anyone who admires good musicianship can enjoy, even though you might not remember much about the songs the next day.
Bert Saraco     


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