THE RECORDINGS Larry Carlton made over the years with the Crusaders and Steely Dan were graced by long, insinuating guitar lines. Now that Carlton is out on his own he hasn't changed his approach to playing, just refined it.
His latest album "Discovery" walks the increasingly familiar line between light jazz and pop, fusing softspun melodies with an ample backbeat. Although Carlton is not one to pack much excitement into his performances, he knows how to make the most of a melody. There's an understated elegance to his playing, a warmth and economy that shines through the album's title cut and "Hello Tomorrow," plus a little bit of soul and blues to keep "March of the Jazz Angels" and "Knock on Wood" interesting.
In some ways this is Carlton's most commercial and collaborative effort -- Michael McDonald plays keyboards on "Minute By Minute" and elsewhere saxophonist Kirk Whalum often carries the melody -- but it's the guitar that shines brightest here, even though Carlton, as always, keeps it on low beam.
The YellowJackets are a fusion quartet that isn't afraid to take a chance with its music every now and then, especially as far as rhythm is concerned. For starters, the group's new album "Four Corners" breaks free of the near-disco dance beat that renders so much fusion jazz tiresome and dated. The band opens the album on a vibrant note, with the genuinely swinging "Out of Town," which features a feisty sax foray by Marc Russo, and then explores more complex rhythms with the help of guest percussionist Alex Acuna. Another plus are the attractive ballads composed by keyboardist Russell Ferrante and the Latin-tinged "Past Ports."
LARRY CARLTON --
"Discovery" (MCA 42003).
"Four Corners" (MCA 5994).
Both appearing Saturday at the Warner Theater.