Four Corners

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Taking a cue from Weather Report (not to mention a percussionist, Alex Acuña), the Yellowjackets created more exotic textures for Four Corners, often with the use of Zawinul-like synthesizers from Russell Ferrante. The album otherwise represents a shift toward more traditional jazz, felt profoundly in the rhythm section of Jimmy Haslip and new drummer William Kennedy. The change in strategy is made plain on the opening "Out of Town," which finds everyone rethinking their instrument beyond the smooth jazz of Shades. While the atmospheric production of David Hentschel and the band lends an ominous air to the music, fans may see it as a poor tradeoff for the readily identifiable (and often instantly likeable) melodies of their previous work. Though nothing leaps off of Four Corners screaming "Hum me," sections of it are mesmerizing. "Past Ports" and "Wildlife" in particular absorb the listener into a breathing musical world. The disc isn't a full conversion from smooth jazz; Marc Russo's sax is still as sweet as ever, but on a track like "Open Road" the effect is icing on a spice cake. Haslip provides some noisy patterns that suggest he was striving for more substance; in fact, he and Ferrante seem to duke it out for control of "Postcards," while everyone throws their own wrench into "Room With a View." Four Corners is the product of four separate musicians striving to cultivate their own voice, a journey that discovers some interesting music along the way. That the Yellowjackets wanted to explore beyond the fringes of smooth jazz boded well for the band's future.

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