by Ferell Aubre
The iconic jazz fusion band based in Los Angeles, Yellowjackets are back with their fourth Mack Avenue Record entitled, Raising Our Voice. The Yellowjackets have been creating a unique brand of jazz since 1981. Raising Our Voice reveals once again that this is a group of musicians that are always moving and searching for new sounds and inspiration. The album features pianist, keyboardist. co-founder Russell Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, bassist Dane Alderson and drummer Will Kennedy. The band has recorded close to 30 albums, been nominated for 17 GRAMMY® Awards, and has adventurously amplified the eclectic, electro-acoustic soundscape, creating a unique jazz sound since its fusion beginnings and Raising Our Voice not only carries on the tradition, but builds upon it. The band has opened even more sonic possibilities by inviting the remarkable vocalist Luciana Souza to collaborate with the group on seven of its thirteen tunes. Souza contributes wordless vocals as well as songs sung in Portuguese and English.
The collection features three older Yellowjackets tunes arranged for Souza’s voice, two songs co-written by Ferrante and Souza, three new originals each for Ferrante and Mintzer, and Alderson’s first original piece for the band along with two short electronic interludes.
The album opens with “Man Facing North.” The tune comes alive with Ferrante’s rich piano voicings and Kennedy’s drum groove. The first melodic statement is conveyed by Souza and Alderson. Mintzer plays the bridge with Souza joining him for the second A section. Souza sings an interlude before Mintzer’s solo. Souza’s contribution to the band’s sound can certainly be heard and felt, there is a new energy to the band that is exciting, and it breathes new life to the outstanding compositional skills contained on “Man Facing North.” Both Mintzer and Alderson turn in wonderful solos, this tune has a multitude of twist and turns, all beautiful and sparked by the electricity and chemistry with Souza.
With a skilled veteran vocalist such as Souza on the project, the band brought out some of their older material that had a Brazilian feel to it and some that had melodies that would bring Souza’s style and voice into character. A re-orchestrated “Solitude” from Like a River, written by Ferrante, has new Portuguese lyrics by Souza. The melody is sung with heart and feeling, the band is supportive. There are moments of playful call-and-response between Souza, Alderson and Mintzer. The soloing is always passionate and always focused on melody. Ferrante’s accompanying is a joy to hear, with full chords and piano and keyboard layers they enrich the music while supporting the melody and soloist.
The Yellowjackets had done it once again, with a flavorful offering featuring one of the most engaging vocalists on the scene who has used her voice as a fluent and malleable instrument on a multitude of projects over the years. Souza’s voice is still the reigning untouchable example of how the voice can be a welcomed addition to any instrumental album, and her Portuguese lyrics are also a treat not to be missed.