Recorded in concert last year at the Mint in Los Angeles, the Yellowjackets are inspired by a wide variety of artists on "Mint Jam" -- everyone from Frederic Chopin, George Gershwin and Keith Jarrett to Les McCann, Eddie Harris and Maceo Parker. So in addition to reprising a few favorites on this double-CD set, including fresh arrangements of "Runferyerlife" and "Statue of Liberty," the veteran fusion band spends a lot of time celebrating some of its favorite things.
Frequently topping the list is funk and gospel music. Since joining the Yellowjackets a dozen years ago, reedman Bob Mintzer has brought a robust soulfulness to the ensemble sound. Several tracks on "Mint Jam" capitalize on this aspect of his playing, especially the spot-on McCann and Harris homage, "Les Is Mo," which kicks off the album, and the similarly contagious "Boomtown," which features Mintzer's tenor dancing and wailing over the sharply syncopated beats generated by the band's newest recruit, drummer Marcus Baylor. Mintzer also contributes to the album's subtle pleasures, such as the Jarrett tribute "Blues for KJ," a wonderfully evocative piece composed by keyboardist Russell Ferrante that moves in and out of pedal point balladry, and Mintzer's own romantic musing "Song for Carla."
Fans expecting to hear Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip respond in kind shouldn't be disappointed either, thanks to the cleverly devised "Motet," "Tortoise and the Hare" and "New Jig."
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Sunday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Yellowjackets, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8133. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)