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Notes from Russell Ferrante
At its core, Yellowjackets is a family. We all feel extremely fortunate to have this unique
opportunity to create music and share it with all of you. The beauty and joy of this
musical family is that we’re given the opportunity to enrich and expand our ties with one
another, our extended musical family, and all of you through music. On Altered State,
we’ve gotten reacquainted with some old friends and make some new ones.
The making of this CD reunited us with the recording studio we first worked in twenty
years ago. In 1985, we recorded Shades and subsequently recorded Four Corners,
Politics, and Greenhouse at Schnee Studio. On Altered State we felt right at home
working in this familiar space. There’s a huge skylight that bathes the main recording
area in warm, natural light giving the entire facility has a light and airy feeling. Our
tracking engineer, Bill Schnee, is known for his work with pop and jazz legends such as
David Sanborn, Whitney Houston, Diana Krall, and many others. The recordings that
are made there are known for their richness and warmth of sound. It was the perfect
environment for making Altered State.
Altered State also brought us the opportunity to work with other longtime friends. In
1984, Yellowjackets opened in Saratoga Springs, NY for The Pat Metheny Group. It
was there that we first heard and became great fans of four sisters who at that time
were singing with Pat’s band. Over the ensuing years, we’ve had many opportunities to
work with Lori, Sharon, Darlene, and Carolyn Perry. Their spirit and immense talents
have enriched countless recordings. On this recording we enlisted them to sing along
with Jean Baylor on “The Hope”. Jean had written a beautiful lyric to a gospel flavored
song Jimmy and I co-wrote. After hearing Jean’s stirring vocal, Jimmy turned to all of us
and excitedly said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to get the Perry sisters on this track!” Their
powerful and soulful voices were the perfect compliment to Jean’s passionate vocal
We enlisted another longtime musical friend, Michael Shapiro, to play percussion on
Altered State. Michael is one of those versatile musicians who plays both percussion
and drum set equally well. He understood how to perfectly compliment Marcus on two
unusual pieces, “Hunter’s Point” and “Suite Fifteen”. Both songs present thorny
metric challenges. “Hunter’s Point” is in 5/8 meter and Suite Fifteen is constructed in
three fifteen beat sections. Both were quite challenging pieces for us to play but Mike’s
percussion fit seamlessly into the fabric of both arrangements.
As previously mentioned, Jean Baylor again makes an inspiring and poignant
contribution to Altered State. Jean had previously sung on our 2003 release, Time
Squared and our Christmas recording, Peace Round. “The Hope” is her first co-writing
credit on a Jackets’ recording. Recently we’ve also been fortunate to have her
performing on stage with us whenever she’s out on the road with her husband, Marcus.
She’s rapidly becoming an honorary Yellowjacket and unquestionably the best looking!
The other songs on the recording feature the core YJ band. Over the course of the last
five years, our music has continued to broaden and evolve. I think the most distinctive
quality of the band is its collaborative spirit. There is no leader. We trust each another.
With that trust comes the understanding that we each have the freedom and
responsibility to shape the music. Altered State finds Marcus making a larger
compositional contribution. His two pieces offer a study in contrasts. “Unity”, co-written
with Bob, demonstrates his ability to make a gentle and lyrical statement. In contrast,
“Free Day” finds Marcus using a darker palette and painting more abstractly. The
band’s performance on this song ventures into some unexpected territory as well.
Bob Mintzer once again contributes several strong compositions to Altered State. His
first, “March Majestic” is a tasty gumbo of a swingin’ New Orleans’ second line groove
and a snaking melody riding atop an imaginative harmonic structure. Though our music
can occasionally venture down an unexpected side street, we’re never too far from the
main thoroughfare! “Mother Earth” is a graceful and lilting composition in an unusual
cut time meter that has a 6/8 feeling. Its propulsive quality comes from a rich, almost
cloudlike harmonic structure that drifts slowly across the underpinning of Jimmy’s bass
line and Marcus ’ latin flavored groove. “Cross Current” features Bob on EWI and bass
clarinet. The song gets its name from the two interwoven melodies in the B section and
their interplay against the rhythm. Bob’s final composition, “Aha” begins with an
unaccompanied bass solo improvisation. Jimmy created this on the spot with no
preparation. I know, because I suggested this to him out of the blue thinking it might be
a nice setup for the song. Jimmy is an amazingly intuitive and creative individual and
jumped right in without a moment’s hesitation.
As previously mentioned, Jimmy co-wrote “The Hope” and also wrote “Youth Eternal”.
Jimmy tells us that Youth Eternal was the name of his intramural basketball team in high
school! It does have a playful and mischievous quality. Jimmy often comments on his
love for the music of his youth, especially bands like Sly and the Family Stone. Check
out Jimmy’s tip of the hat to Sly’s bassist, Larry Graham.
Finally, along with co-writing “The Hope”, I composed three additional songs for this
project, previously mentioned, “Suite Fifteen”, “Hunter’s Point” and “57 Chevy”. All
three were inspired in large part by an exploration of layering uneven groupings of notes
like 3’s, 5’s, and 7’s atop one another. 57 Chevy is probably the most overt example as
the song calls for piano to simultaneously play all three. The band is always on the
lookout for new ways to invigorate itself. One of the best ways to do that is to constantly
challenge ourselves. These unusual grooves and metric puzzles certainly did that.
Lastly, we must mention some other longtime collaborators as well as a new one. Rich
Breen, our sound mixer, has been involved in every YJ CD since Blue Hats. He mixed
Altered State and is an integral part of the band’s sound. Similarly our graphic designer,
Margi Denton has worked on every YJ CD package since Run For Your Life. Her
boundless creativity has insured that our graphics are always imaginative and first rate.
A longtime friend but a recent collaborator is Mitch Haupers. Mitch, a teacher at
Berklee College of Music in Boston, came out to Los Angeles to document the recording
sessions with still photos and live video footage. Almost all of the photos in the CD
booklet were taken by Mitch. He also created a five minute video montage which we
hope to have available on the site soon. Finally, a new friend, Peter Max, painted the
cover art. Peter needs no introduction and we are incredibly honored to have had the
opportunity to collaborate with him. He suggested the CD’s title, Altered State, after
listening and painting to the rough tracks of this recording. Thanks, Peter! On behalf of
the entire band, we sincerely hope you’ll join us on our most recent musical excursion to
an Altered State.
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