For over 25 years the Yellowjackets have cultivated a sound and niche all their own. This sound is a synthesis of their beautiful compositions and incredible musicianship. So what IS the Yellowjackets ‘sound’. The first thing that comes to mind for me is their clever use of timbres and attention to detail in both dynamics and production. Many contemporary electric jazz albums lack subtlety in these departments and focus too acutely on chops and complexity. Yellowjackets recordings however, tend to focus on nuance and narrative – the chops and complexity almost happen incidentally.
When the Yellowjackets come to town my man Jimmy Haslip comes to town. Jimmy is THE MOST VERSATILE BASSIST. Period. Have you ever heard Jimmy Barnes version of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’? Well I have it on good authority that that is Jimmy Haslip on the bass track. And it wouldn’t surprise me. Did you know that he was touring with Al Jarreau in his early twenties? This guy is one of the few phenomenal soloists who gets booked because he’s such an incredible groove player. Listen to his work with the Michael Bolton group. I mean there are many session players who form smooth jazz groups and like to think of them selves as jazzers. And many jazz players who form ‘funk-jazz’ projects and explore that world. But Jimmy Haslip is one of the very few people who is the real deal. A pioneer on his instrument, a master of it’s melodic possibilities and a disciple of it’s rhythmic roots.
I want to take a moment to walk you through this transcription because there are some gems online casino in there. Let’s talk about the groove. The first thing you’ll notice is that this piece is in 5/4. Now check out the bass line at bar 19. This groove essentially follows the common 3 2 grouping of most 5/4 grooves (such as ‘Take 5’ and ‘Mission Impossible’) but by using one simple anticipation on beat ‘3 &’ this groove flows much more than those feels. Ie. instead of 1 2&3 4 5 this groove is built from 1 2& 3& 4 5.
Now let’s examine the melody. Jimmy improvises for 8 bars at the top of the piece before playing the A section melody. Have a look at his phrasing from bar 1 thru 8. His first three phrases begin on three different beats (5, 2 and 1). This is something worth taking notice of. In his solo later in the piece he tends to avoid phrasing from beat 1 and especially 3. In this way he creates beautiful ‘cross bar’ phrases which belie the relatively difficult nature of improvising in 5. The second thing that becomes obvious is his use of pentatonics and diatonic scale shapes. There is no real dissonance in his note choice and no exotic scales. By using such simple lines I believe he leaves more room for developing memorable shapes and motific development. This is part of the Jimmy Haslip ‘sound’. When he steps out side of the key centre it’s usually still using pentatonic shapes but simply moving them outside the key. To hear him do this check out his solo on ‘Sea Folk’ from the ‘25’ live album.
Have a look at bar 42. I love what he does here. In this phrase he is using C Mixolydian as his tonal centre. First he plays a D minor arpeggio then descends the scale but adds one chromatic passing tone (B natural) so that his next diatonic arpeggio (Bb major # 11) begins on a strong beat. Now look at bars 47 and 48. On beat 5 of bar 47 he plays an 8 note phrase that crosses into bar 48 – he then repeats that same shape a 4th down on beats 2 and 3 of bar 48. The next cool thing to check out is a device which Jaco used on ‘Port of Entry’ about 30 years ago. Look at the phrase in bar 52. This is a common device where by you take an odd group of notes (eg 5 or 7) and play melodic phrases in sixteenth notes. What you end up with is a pattern which oscillates across the pulse. What Jimmy has done here is change the pace a bit by using an 8th note in the first group but the idea is the same.
Take the time to explore the harmony yourself. Peace.