When the Yellowjackets grew out of Robben Ford's Charles Ford Blues Band in 1981, it looked like another short-lived fusion venture à la Mahavishnu Orchestra. Sure enough, two years later Ford left the band in '83 to return to his first love: the blues. But Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip and Ricky Lawson regrouped, brought in saxophonist Marc Russo and kept on making palatable jazz filled with pop flavors and some hints of light R&B. For a minute or two it looked like the band was headed down the Spyro Gyra path. But the Yellowjackets -- whose membership has changed often and now consists of Ferrante, Haslip, drummer Marcus Baylor and reedman Bob Mintzer -- have matured, in no small part thanks to Mintzer's challenging arrangements. Where the group once peddled a pop-R&B fusion, it now supplies a sophisticated form of acoustic/electric jazz with R&B, classical and world influences. Each successive album has a new twist. Today, the Yellowjackets are not only one of the longest-lasting fusion outfits but also one of the most innovative. Who would have thought?