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In their fifth decade, the Yellowjackets still sound fresh

Setting up their instruments to perform in the KNKX studios, the four members of the Yellowjackets were smiling widely and eager to play. Over 40 years since their debut backing guitarist Robben Ford, these stars of jazz fusion continue to create at the highest level.

Russell Ferrante, the band's co-founder, has seen the Yellowjackets through several lineup changes and years of evolving musical styles. He told KNKX's Abe Beeson that what makes their music "Yellowjackets" music is a modern sense of rhythm, strong melodies, and the unique musical collaboration of his bandmates.

Despite personnel changes, the band is remarkably long lived. Drummer Will Kennedy joined the Yellowjackets in the mid-1980s, departed in 1999 and, after a decade of other musical pursuits, returned to the Yellowjackets.

Saxophonist Bob Mintzer came on as a guest with the Yellowjackets around 1990 and quickly became a core member of the band on his acoustic and Electronic Wind Instrument as well as a key composer.

The youngest member of the band joined nearly a decade ago. Australian bass player Dane Alderson noted the big shoes of past bassists Jimmy Haslip and Felix Pastorius. Fitting in, he said, came easier than expected.

Last summer's Parallel Motion follows previous albums in collaboration with singer Luciana Souza and with the WDR Big Band. The return to the heart of the Yellowjackets quartet is something special, Ferrante said.

The Yellowjackets embraced electronic instruments from the beginning, and Ferrante's synthesizer was joined by Mintzer's EWI for this performance, but overall the band has been moving in a more acoustic direction. Years of teaching experience helped the band stay contemporary as they were exposed to the musical influences of their students.

That modern sound comes through in the tricky rhythms and pretty melody of Mintzer's "Intrigue" and his tune "Inevitable Income" from the album Cohearence — a modern update of vintage Yellowjackets jazz fusion. "Samaritan" by drummer Kennedy is a beautiful ballad with a groovy strut in a deceptively complex time.

The Yellowjackets' Parallel Motion is nominated for their third Grammy at the Feb. 5 award ceremony. Kennedy said they're "thrilled to pieces" at the band's continued success. KNKX is also thrilled to pieces to bring you this exclusive session from one of the top quartets in jazz.

Musicians:

  • Russell Ferrante - piano and synthesizer
  • Bob Mintzer - tenor saxophone and Electronic Wind Instrument
  • Dane Alderson - bass
  • Will Kennedy - drums

Songs:

  1. Intrigue
  2. Inevitable Outcome
  3. Samaritan
Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.