Yellowjackets

Shades

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The Yellowjackets are a jazz band for the Windham Hill set: i.e., smooth and relaxing rather than edgy and stimulating. If Shades goes down like straight sugar (and not the lumpy kind), it's supposed to. Since some folks are naturally drawn to this type of music and others are not, an appreciation for jazz is not enough -- you'll need an appreciation for crossover jazz (aka "smooth jazz") to enjoy this album. If you do like your jazz on the lyrical side, and don't mind the late-night talk show arrangements, chances are you'll think Shades is pretty cool. Led by alto sax player Marc Russo, these eight songs glide along with nary a care in the world, promising to burst into song at any moment (which in fact happens on the gospel-inspired "Revelations"). Thanks in part to the electronic instruments and immaculate studio sound, Shades retains an uplifting and bouncy feel throughout. "New Shoes," "One Family," and "Regular Folks" are songs that listeners can warm up to in a hurry. Despite Russo's gratuitous solos, the Yellowjackets are not a flashy band -- Jimmy Haslip's agile bass is too low in the mix to be accused of showboating, and drummer Ricky Lawson and keyboardist Russell Ferrante don't seem interested in the spotlight. Without those individual excursions, the Yellowjackets sacrifice some identity, but generally the compositions stand up on the merits of their melodies. Because the melodies are so accessible, Shades occasionally sounds more like the work of contemporary pop artists with jazz aspirations (Donald Fagen, Bruce Hornsby) than contemporary jazz artists. That this music would sound at home in a supermarket should scare off jazz purists, but even they might find themselves humming along to it somewhere in a secluded aisle.

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