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Arts Festival Review: Yellowjackets

Arts Festival Review: Yellowjackets

Review by Nick van Dijk, New Zealand School of Music

Pacific Blue Festival Club (Shed 6)
March 2

The Yellowjackets have been playing as a band since at least the 80s, and within the genre of slick Jazz fusion delivered the goods to an audience who seemed to know their music.

This band plays together very well inside their sophisticated, tight and samey compositions that derive from a mix of jazz pop and gospel harmony. Tenor Saxophonist Bob Mintzer doubled on the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) and as such is the heir to the dubious throne left vacant by the passing of virtuoso Michael Brecker. His distracting solo interlude on it amused the crowd by alternating extreme high and low voices such as trumpeter Clark Terry used to do with his pseudo-vocalised "mumbles" routine.

The usual jetlag of arts festival performers was evident in the curve of the performance, with individual efforts by drummer Will Kennedy and Mintzer lifting the vibe at times in the second half with the help of the unflagging and very chirpy bass player Jimmy Haslip. Haslip is a fine soloist who phrases very sweetly among standard licks (such as played by ex- Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern, who features on their album Lifecycle). He is unusual in that he plays a left-handed bass with the strings upside down (like a right-handed bass flipped over), and so will probably go unchallenged on his instrument by any bass player in the world at a jam session.

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Keyboardist/pianist Russell Ferrante is somewhat of a dark horse, appearing at times to be less technically able but really providing the heart of the group's sound - while looking like he really enjoys it. He is capable of the odd surprise outside the safety of the generic pentatonic licks and slickness of the idiom.

Their Miles Davis dedication 'Dewey' could have been written by Marcus Miller, Davis' cohort on the classic Tutu album. Highlights were the quick blues 'Statue of Liberty' which featured a consistently interesting arrangement, and the harmonically intriguing yet slightly uneven performance of Mintzer's 'Greenhouse', complete with orchestral-style strings sounds.

Speaking of sounds, the amplification was ok in this venue, considering the tin roof, which tends to boominess. Clarity of the bass was not optimum, but the sound engineer managed to keep the band in relative balance throughout. He did lay on too much reverb on slower tunes, which is the sound equivalent of the plastic wrap cheese. Actually, this is a fair taste equivalent of the Yellowjackets sound - bland, modern, very consistent and processed.

As with other pioneers such as Steps Ahead and Dave Sanborn, they do have a long pedigree, with the mild mannered Mintzer being an important voice on his instrument and as a writer. At the conclusion about half the audience was pleased enough to give a standing ovation that produced an undeniably fun gospelish encore.

The venue was the Pacific Blue Festival Club, converted Shed 6 at the waterfront. This space works, although the seats are crammed in, leaving the audience intimately connected via shoulders and knees.

Sleep well guys, I guess you fly out tomorrow, business class.


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Arts Festival website: Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets website
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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