Yellowjackets - Peace Round: A Christmas Celebration (2003)

Yellowjackets have traces of smooth jazz woven throughout their work but they're too experimental, too free form, and too spirited to fall into jazz's elevator music sub-genre. Perhaps it's the quartet's employment of synths and the soprano sax that create this perception in listeners' minds. If so, they are wrong.

This lineup of the revolving door that is Yellowjackets recorded Peace Round: A Christmas Celebration with Bob Mintzer (tenor and soprano), Russell Ferrante on piano and synths, and Jimmy Haslip on bass and synths. Marcus Baylor plays drums.

Mintzer and Ferrante are the stars. Both contribute eclectic solos, especially on the title track, an old English canon on which Haslip's bass almost serves as another lead instrument.

There is nothing smooth or modern about "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." It's more traditional and that's a good thing.

Mintzer stars on "Winter Wonderland" and the set's only vocal, by guest Jean Baylor on "The First Noel", adds some variety around Mintzer's appealing solo.

There are two versions of "Silent Night." The second one, "In a Silent Night," with Joe Zawinul listed as the third composer is a perfect showcase for Christmas music's most beautiful melody.

Mintzer's tenor work is better than his soprano contributions but perhaps that's only because the former is a richer sounding woodwind than it's smaller sibling. Regardless, he is the primary reason this fine set of holiday jazz rises above many others.