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CD Review: Chicago Yestet “Not There Yet”

By Hrayr Attarian

Chicago Yestet Not There Yet

Maggie Burrell Voice

Keith Harris Spoken word

Geof Bradfield Saxophone

Chris Madsen Saxophone

Nick Mazzarella Saxophone

Chuck Parrish Trumpet

Russ Johnson Trumpet

Tom Garling Trombone

Joel Adams Trombone

Clark Sommers Bass

Mike Allemana Guitar

Stu Mindeman Piano

Xavier Breaker Drums

The Chicago Yestet is a thirteen-member ensemble that, under trombonist Joel Adams’ directorship, performs dynamic, genre-bending music with a definite social message. Its third release in a decade, Not There Yet, is no exception. The band’s personnel, however, has significantly changed and material Adams tackles here is bolder and more ambitious than on previous albums.

Guitarist Mike Allemana’s relaxed, simmering strums open the soulful title track, condemnation of still pervasive racism. The passionate horn chorus leads to songwriter Keith Harris’ poignant recitation of his own poetry. Harris’ words seamlessly merge with the group’s longtime vocalist Maggie Burrell’s yearning song. Adams, using a megaphone-muted trombone, concludes with an eerie and organically urgent improvisation.

Another mesmerizing piece is the warmly undulating “From This Moment.” In addition to Adams’ modified instrument, it features bassist Clark Sommers’ eloquent and lyrical solo and Allemana’s luminous chords. Equally memorable is the haunting beauty with which the horn section and the rhythm quartet interweave vibrant and sonorous refrains.

Other newcomers to the collective showcase their unique styles when they take their turns in the spotlight. These include pianist Stu Mindeman’s agile and blues-drenched “answer” to Burrell’s tender vocals on the swaggering “So It Goes.” Trumpeter Russ Johnson and drummer Xavier Breaker both shine on the tightly woven, shimmering “Moment of Truth.” The former bisects the tune with burnished tones and warm, emotive lines; the latter lets loose a set of elegantly rumbling polyrhythms that set the stage for saxophonist Geof Bradfield’s fiery and acerbic extemporization.

This engaging record closes on a high point with “Anthem For a New Generation of Sociopolitical Reactionaries.” Equal parts satire and outrage, it mixes Donald Trump’s sound bites with Harris’ expressive commentary over simmering and restless orchestral vamps.

On Not There Yet, Adams excels equally as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He has kept the momentum of previous works unabated despite having almost an entirely new group of musicians. Only Burrell, Sommers, saxophonist Geof Bradfield, and trombonist Tom Garling remain from the band’s previous iteration. In fact, Adams is adept at attracting like-minded and similarly accomplished artists with whom he succeeds in expanding creative boundaries.

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