For their fourteenth album as a band, the Yellowjackets announced the desire to go in a different direction from their previous outings. The difference on Club Nocturne is the inclusion of four vocal tracks. Fortunately, there is no difference here in the high level of musicianship and compositional quality long associated with this quartet. In fact, Club Nocturne is very much of a piece with its immediate predecessors, Dreamland and Blue Hats. "Spirit of the West" and "Stick_to_it_ive_ness" kick the CD off in a buoyant mood, emphasizing Russell Ferrante's inventive songwriting, Jimmy Haslip's nimble-fingered, melodic basswork, and Bob Mintzer's soprano saxophone mastery. The groove is solid, unmistakably Yellowjackets. Track three, the ultra-funky "Up From New Orleans," is a diversion for the band only because it features Kurt Elling singing Mintzer's homage to the Crescent City. The music itself is pure Mintzer-Yellowjackets, fortified with a brass band-inspired, crawfish-fed N'Orleans backbeat. "The Evening News" moves in a syncopated groove laid down by Haslip and drummer William Kennedy, who delivers his usual polyrhythmic virtuoso performance throughout the disc. The two most surprising tracks here are "Even the Pain," featuring a vocal by Jonathan Butler, and "Love and Paris Rain," with Brenda Russell carrying the vocal duty. Though these tracks would be right at home on smooth jazz radio, each has enough character to set it apart from the formulaic ballads clogging up the playlists of such stations. Butler's track has the feel of his native South Africa blended with a touch of Irish pennywhistle, while Ms. Russell's feature stands out because of its unexpected chord progressions. "The Village Church" harkens back to Ferrante's days as a youngster whose dad was a church choir director. "Twilight for Nancy" is a beautiful instrumental ballad, while "Automat" is reminiscent of earlier bandworks, with a sax and synth counterpoint played against and within the melody, conjuring up images of robotic automatons roaming back and forth across a futuristic plain. The final piece, "All is Quiet," again brings Elling to the mike, this time in an atypical setting for a Yellowjackets recording, mostly space and openness, as Elling trades lines with Mintzer's sax while the rest of the band fills in the beatless background with washes and accents. From start to finish, Club Nocturne is a satisfying addition to the Yellowjackets' catalog. While obviously seeking to expand their appeal to a wider audience, they have managed to avoid compromising their high musical standards.
AllMusic Review by Jim Newsom