Yellowjackets: Russell Ferrante (keyboards); Jimmy Haslip (bass); Ricky Lawson (drums).
Additional personnel: Kim Hutchcroft (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Larry Williams (tenor saxophone, flute); Ernie Watts (tenor saxophone); Jerry Hey (trumpet, flugelhorn); Bill Reichenbach (trombone); Bobby Lyle (piano); Robben Ford, Roland Bautista (guitar).
Recorded at Warner Bros. Recording Studios, North Hollywood, California.
The Yellowjackets made a splash with their first record, an accessible mixture of jazz, rock, and funk bearing the unmistakable mark of the L.A. session scene that spawned them. In fact, the Yellowjackets had their roots in the sessions for Robben Ford's 1979 album The Inside Story. Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, and Ricky Lawson all appeared on that album and reenlisted Ford's help for their own debut, with the guitarist's fluid soloing often taking the lead role. As fun an album as it is -- and there are times when the melodies rise to a joyful exuberance that recalls Weather Report's "Birdland" -- Yellowjackets isn't a true fusion record. Ricky Lawson provides rock beats to the material, Haslip's bass work is as funky as it is jazzy, and the arrangements tend to stick with the same groove (as ingratiating as they may be) rather than explore the musical themes like an esoteric jazz band might. The opening "Matinee Idol" is as much the Jackson 5 (one of Lawson's previous gigs) as fusion, "Rush Hour" is jazzy in a Steely Dan sense, while "Sittin' in It" actually borrows from the old funk classic "For the Love of Money." There are some nice, chunky grooves that give the album a sense of substance ("The Hornet," "Imperial Strut"), a wistful track in "It's Almost Gone," and a neat melody tucked into "Priscilla," all of which contribute to the album's charm. But compared to their GRP recordings, the Yellowjackets' debut does seem a little one-dimensional. If you enjoy the smooth, guitar-led jazz from this period (e.g., Earl Klugh, Lee Ritenour), Yellowjackets is worth checking out, both for the upbeat melodies and Ford's seemingly effortless solos. ~ Dave Connolly