Yellowjackets

Altered State

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The most adventurous quartet in contemporary jazz has met its visual match in Peter Max, the legendary pop artist who, as it turns out, is a huge fan of the band. Russell Ferrante and company could probably feel at home naming any of their innovative, loose-spirited albums after one of Max's paintings, but Altered State definitely fits the vibe here -- which is all odd meters, emotionally provocative melodic lines, and unexpected harmonies. Max, in turn, took a few preliminary tracks and was inspired to create the cool, splotchy cover art. The hourlong musical affair won't cause any permanent mental and emotional departures, but there are a lot of odd and spirited surprises along the way. "Suite 15," featuring the funky interplay of Bob Mintzer's aggressive sax and Ferrante's power chording (not to mention one of Ferrante's classic lush piano solos), is classic Jackets stuff all the way. They almost go "pop" on Mintzer's multi-genre romp "March Majestic," which is driven by drummer Marcus Baylor's New Orleans-styled march beat, Ferrante's gospel-tinged keys, and -- big shock -- Mintzer's ace soloing throughout. The spiritual centerpiece of the disc is "The Hope," a churchgoing gem featuring Jean Baylor on lead vocals and the Perry Sisters backing. Running from the fellowship hall, the quartet goes alternately fun and jazzy and then weird and wild, from Ferrante's dark, brooding, and gently exotic "Hunter's Point" to bassist Jimmy Haslip's simmering and offbeat "Youth Eternal." Marcus Baylor has a blast taking listeners into a dense percussive forest at the beginning of "Free Day," which develops into a fairly straightforward midtempo jazz number. Ferrante explains that this project was about finding some less-traveled roads. But even on those, the band can't get away from the powerful risk-taking and solid playing that make the Yellowjackets treasures in their chosen genre.

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