Yellowjackets: Twenty Five

Yellowjackets: Twenty Five (2006)
Heads Up International
Cast: Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Bob Mintzer, Marcus Baylor
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Interviews, Bonus CD

Founded in 1981, the band Yellowjackets put together a unique blend of smooth jazz, acoustic, and traditional folk music that quickly took off and garnered a legion of fans. More than two decades later, the group is still going incredibly strong, with two of its original members and a successful European tour. To celebrate the band's 25th anniversary, Heads Up International has released a special DVD/CD combo entitled "Twenty Five," a retrospective look at their career with new concert footage and a bevy of insightful commentary from past and present members.

To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Yellowjackets until this point (this does not fall into my general, unqualified taste in music), but minutes into this DVD I was under the spell of their richly melodic, easy-going sound. The meat of this disc is a concert performed in Forli, Italy in October of 2005. With the band gathered on a small stage in front of a modest nightclub crowd, the atmosphere was soothingly intimate. Founding members Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip performed on acoustic piano/synthesizer and electric base, respectively. Bob Mintzer took the tenor saxophone, and Marcus Baylor played drums. They performed nine songs culled from their oeuvre, putting a contemporary spin on some of their greatest hits.

The songs performed during the concert included "My Old School," "Red Sea," "Matinee Idol," "Out of Town," "Geraldine," "Imperial Strut," "Sea Folk," "Greenhouse," and "Time Squared." All instrumental, it was a wonderful collection of jazzy, soulful tunes. With no frills or over-the-top showmanship, this was just good, relaxing, unadulterated listening. It is no wonder the group has lasted as long as they have. Their style is an ever-adapting one that can take even the most memorable classic and turn it into a smooth, new age hit.

The footage on this disc was recorded on what was apparently rather low video quality, and as a result the transfer is visually disappointing. Image is soft and filled with digital artifacting. Black levels are weak and reveal quite a bit of grain. The transfer is presented in fullscreen, although it often appears in various letterboxed widescreen aspect ratios.

Audio quality, by contrast, is excellent, presented in both Dolby Stereo and 5.1 surround tracks. Both are very clear with no audible distortion or pops. The 5.1 mix is obviously superior, nicely distributing the different sounds and incorporating the ambience and crowd reactions for a warm, satisfying experience. The music is the most important element on this disc, and it is given top treatment here.

First up in the extras department are 52 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. What this chiefly consists of are six songs each taken from different concerts over the years and a brief retro interview. The songs are "Greenhouse" (presented as more of a music video), "Jacket Town," "Father Time," "Dewey," "RunFerYerLife," and "Evening Dance." The interview segment was taken from a previous lineup, with former drummer William Kennedy.

After this we get 55 minutes of new interview segments. The first features all four current Yellowjackets members. The rest of the segments boast individual interviews with former members Robben Ford (electric guitar, 1981-1982), Ricky Lawson (drums, 1981-1986), Marc Russo (saxophones, 1983-1990), and William Kennedy (drums, 1987-1998). Each interviewee offers personal, insightful commentary on his experiences with the group and, in such cases, after. This material is indispensable for diehard fans, and it is fascinating to see the amount of respect and camaraderie that still exists between former and current members.

A complete discography follows, with audio samples on certain albums. The DVD wraps up with links to the Yellowjackets and Heads Up websites.

Included with this release is a bonus live CD, recorded at an October, 2005 concert in Paris. Lasting approximately 72 minutes, it boasts eight songs: "Revelation," "Geraldine," "Jaketown," "Sea Folk," "Free Day," "My Old School," "Greenhouse," and "RunFerYerLife." Like the DVD concert, this is a musical treat. This is perfect for a relaxing drive, a veritable soundtrack to unwind to and soak in its deceptively complex rhythms.

Unpretentious, solid and soulful, Yellowjackets are a truly remarkable group whose music has lasted two decades and several member changes. What does not change is a unifying vision and dedication to their unique style, and this has kept the fans coming back for more. Heads Up International has basically sent a valentine to those fans, offering an intimate look at this band with revealing interviews and engaging concert footage. Without a doubt, "Twenty Five" is an essential item for Yellowjackets fans and comes highly recommended for listeners of smooth jazz.