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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 09:28 am

The buzz on the Yellowjackets

Fab fusion foursome plays the Hoogland on Sunday

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The Yellowjackets perform at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Sunday, May 25.

The Yellowjackets is one of those bands — the kind with a small but almost rabid following. During the nearly 30 years the core of the progressive instrumental jazz band has been together, the group has won a couple of Grammys and has been nominated for several more and has remained in the forefront of contemporary jazz by combining elements of rock, funk, and various other styles into a vibrant, inspirational mix.
Touring in support of Lifecycle (Heads Up International, 2008), released on May 20, the band, say friends and critics who’ve seen them recently, is, musically speaking, on fire. The group originally came together as a backing band for guitarist Robben Ford in the late 1970s, then continued as a quartet consisting of keyboards, saxophone, bass, and drums with only rare guitar work. In fact, the new disc marks the first time in more than 15 years that a six-string has graced a Yellowjackets recording. The band mulled the idea over for a time with guitarist and labelmate Mike Stern and then, after a particularly wonderful jam last summer at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the moment arrived. The resulting collaboration is a fiery collection of songs showing the Yellowjackets at the height of their talents, both in composition and performance, and strengthened by Stern’s stellar contributions. For those keeping track, current Yellowjackets bandmates include two founding members — keyboardist Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip — plus drummer and St. Louis-area native Marcus Baylor. Saxophonist Bob Mintzer, a Yellowjacket since the late 1980s, is sitting out this tour personal reasons but is ably replaced by Eric Marienthal, a former member of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, among other fantastic credits. As a bonus for you Springfield concertgoers only (the Yellowjackets play the region in the next week), the show promoter has booked Zach Radwine and his group as the opening act. Radwine, an extremely talented keyboardist, fronts an excellent trio. Word has it he’s off to med school next semester, so this may be your best and last chance to see him for a while.
The great beauty of this music — based in technical ability and presented in passionate displays — comes through in its live performance. Even if you don’t find fusion jazz your favorite type of music, the live performance of it can be absolutely breathtaking.
Catch the Yellowjackets at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 25, with the Zach Radwine Trio at the LRS Theater in the Hoogland Center for the Arts (420 S. Sixth St.). For more information or tickets, call 217-523-2787 or go online to scfta.org.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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