This time, members of the explorative quartet are intentionally seeing how far they can push their own adventurous musical ideas. The result? The opportunity to challenge themselves to enter unforeseen musical territory during the performance of some of the compositions of Altered State. In fact, if there is a common theme to Altered State, despite the diversity of the music presented on the CD, it is the conscious decision to generate unforeseen musical events, even if sometimes based upon conventional forms, as the Yellowjackets take the spirit of improvisation to its ultimate conclusion. Reinforcing that intention is the painting on the cover of the liner notes that Peter Max, a longtime follower of The Yellowjackets’ creations, painted as a visual impression of the group’s music as he perceives it.
Over the years, the Yellowjackets’ sound has settled into one that’s identifiable by the strongly personal contributions of its members, keyboardist Russell Ferrante’s unconventional yet accessible accompaniments as recognizable as Bob Mintzer’s saxophone work that bridges the past with the future of jazz. Moreover, the expanse of the sonic range that the Yellowjackets covers always makes the group seem larger than its four members. Increasingly adopting Latin rhythms as well as percussion, this time provided by Mike Shapiro, the Yellowjackets finds the polyrhythmic complexity of Afro-Cuban music to be yet another instance of the infinite world beat that it continues to investigate. Lately, the Yellowjackets have attached a spiritual/environmental/humanitarian ethic to its music as they give musical expression to their wishes for a better world. And on recent albums, the Yellowjackets has added lyrics to their music, once again recruiting singer Jean Baylor to sing about hope on "The Hope," the instrumentalists and vocalists borrowing from the depth of feeling suggested by fervently sung R&B.
On the other hand, the Yellowjackets kicks off its altered state by doing what it does best: taking a novel musical idea and making it acceptable, even comforting, to a broad cross section of listeners. In the case of "Suite 15," Shapiro’s percussion commences to suggest that the Yellowjackets will be incorporating Latin rhythms in a consistent pattern throughout the tune. But no, when Ferrante’s piano vamp and then Mintzer’s tenor sax builds the composition’s framework, it turns out that they are playing within a meter that consists of 15 beats to a measure. Listeners, except for those who analyze such things, would never guess. The Yellowjackets’ musicians continue to remain interested in the possibilities presented by the music by trying out new concepts but with the ultimate test of finding a groove that invites listeners to enjoy their music, no matter how complex it may be or how impossible it would be for other groups to play. As a result, the Yellowjackets are one with their music, the compositions an outgrowth of their personalities and talent, their playing subsumed into a unique empathetic blend.
Even on what starts as a traditional New Orleans street march, "March Majestic," highlighted by Marcus Baylor’s infectious drumming and the incongruity of Ferrante’s organ-like accompaniment, the Yellowjackets, creatively restless as ever, change the rhythm to move into straight-ahead improvisation.... and then into a metrical deceleration that calls attention to the quartet’s signature two-part changes. Or, "Hunter’s Point" grows out of Jimmy Haslip’s reverberating bass lines, certainly the cohesive element of the piece, while Ferrante on electric piano and Mintzer on bass clarinet play darting, intermittent melody, impressionistically painting a scene of flowing natural background interrupted by sharply drawn unanticipated events.
Buoyantly optimistic with nary a hint of anger or sadness to darken the music, the Yellowjackets has developed its own statement about the ability of music to move musicians and listeners into a zone of subconscious uplift, an altered state that transcends ephemeral concerns to approach something more eternal that all artists seek.