The Yellowjackets

Avoiding both the complexity-for-its-own-sake trap of late-period fusion and the oleaginous makeout music clichs of smooth jazz, the Yellowjackets have endured and prospered by making smart electric jazz that's substantive enough to reward repeat listens, yet still accessible to casual listeners.

Originally formed in 1977 to back up guitarist Robben Ford, the group spun off as a separate act in the early '80s and has undergone a gradual evolution in both personnel and musical approach. While their earliest records relied heavily on blues, funk and R&B grooves, the modern-day Yellowjackets incorporate the additional influences of straight-ahead acoustic jazz and world music. It's a more orchestral conception, featuring polyrhythms and occasional odd meters, and the result is a much more complex, layered sound than in the band's early days.

Core members Russell Ferrante on keyboards and Jimmy Haslip on bass remain reliable groovemeisters and soloists, and saxophonist Bob Mintzer, who joined in 1990, is a versatile reed man whose experience as a big-band arranger has helped him play a major role in shaping the band's current sound. Drummer Marcus Baylor, a young St. Louis native-turned-New Yorker, rounds out the lineup and has proved himself a capable successor to past drummers Ricky Lawson and William Kennedy.

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