The Yellowjackets w/Mike Stern | 04.29-05.02.09

prev_yellowjackets.jpgThis is a fantastic opportunity to experience the sublime magic that comes from a quarter of a century of innovation and exploration.







Epic event alert: a rare combination of one of the most groundbreaking fusion bands along with one of the great guitar players of our time. The world-renowned Yellowjackets will be playing a series of eight shows this week at the Jazz at the Bistro with the legendary Mike Stern on guitar. Their music has always been on the cutting edge of pushing expression beyond boundaries defined by labels. The Yellowjackets’ unique sound is a blend of musical influences combining elements of funk, R&B, rock and bebop. They have evolved over the years and their music reflects the influences of cultural changes in technology, commerce, politics and fashion.

I love watching incomparable bassist Jimmy Haslip. He has an unending groove and gets such big sounds from seemingly small movements. He plays bass left handed, but uses right-handed basses strung normally, so the fret board is upside down and backwards; it’s a trip to see. He is joined by founding member Russell Ferrante on keyboards, saxophonist Bob Mintzer and St. Louisan Marcus Baylor on drums. The list of jazz artists with whom they have individually collaborated on live performances and recordings is staggering.

Haslip offers this inspirational piece of advice for musicians: "The learning process is never-ending. The key is to always strive and search for knowledge. In learning new things everyday, there will be inspiration. That inspiration will thirst for knowledge and so the endless cycle goes. They will feed each other infinitely and theoretically the creative well will never run dry."

Stern got his first real big break with Miles Davis. It is well known that Davis had a wicked sense of talent and was able to bring out the best performances from the best players. He made more of a name for himself touring with David Sanborn and joining the Brecker Brothers and Steps Ahead, but it is the sound that Stern forged with his signature Telecaster tone that led to the overwhelming success of his solo albums Upside Downside and Time in Place. These two albums put him to the forefront of the guitar and jazz scene where he gained much recognition and world acclaim. His playing can range from the very subtle and sublime, to mind-blowing bop, to over-the-top outrageous rockin’ out. (For those of you unfamiliar with his playing, for lack of a better comparison, he sounds a bit like Pat Metheny meets Hendrix.) Put it this way: You have to come out and see for yourself; I guarantee you will be blown away by the musicianship and expression you will witness.

If you don’t already have Stern’s recent disc, Who Let the Cats Out?, definitely get it. Collaborating with some of the best cats to be found, this is a throwback to the feeling I got from hearing Stern for the first time. The Yellowjackets celebrated their 25-year anniversary with a tour to and the release of a combination CD/DVD package that captures two great performances from the European tour from the fall of 2007. Entitled Twenty Five, the collection covers music spanning their entire career of groundbreaking electric jazz. In 2008, they released Lifecycle, which beautifully captures the unbounded creativity that results from their collaboration with Stern.

Whether you’ve been a Yellowjackets fan from the beginning or are just now discovering them, this is a fantastic opportunity to experience the sublime magic that comes from a quarter of a century of innovation and exploration…especially when combined with the virtuoso playing of Mike Stern. An intimate and warm-sounding room, Jazz at the Bistro is a great place to see this rare event. No better place to be this week. | Derek Lauer

Jazz at the Bistro is located at 3536 Washington Ave. in St. Louis; their number is 314-531-1012. Tickets are $35 Wed./Thurs. and $40 Fri/Sat., with shows at 8:30 and 10:15 p.m.

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