Not There Yet
You’ve heard of quartets, quintets, septets and others but this may be the first time you’ve encountered a yestet. This is Chicago’s own acclaimed ensemble, the Chicago Yestet, releasing its third album, Not There Yet. Under the direction of Joel Adams, the 13-piece band presents an engaging, diverse release which addresses the persistent problem of race relations in this country and is a plea for justice and unity. Composer, bandleader, and trombonist, Adams wrote the wide array of compositions over the past 5 years.
The ensemble is made up of vocalist Maggie Burrell; spoken word artist Keith Harris; saxophonists Geof Bradfield; Chris Madsen and Nick Mazzarella; trumpeters Chuck Parrish and Russ Johnson; trombonists Tom Garling and Joel Adams; bassist Clark Sommers; Guitarist Mike Allemana; pianist Stu Mindeman and drummer Xavier Breaker. Some of them are bandleaders too. We have covered Chris Madsen’s Bonfire on these pages and Clark Sommers just recently released his trio album, Peninsula, which features Bradfield.
According to bandleader Joel Adams, “‘Not There Yet’ reflects not only my admiration for Thad Jones and other big bands from the 1960’s and 70’s but also my love for James Brown and Donny Hathaway. The Chicago Yestet is committed to grooving, is not afraid to play simply and even pretty, and is willing to directly take on political issues through music.”
The almost 11-minute opening title track begins with a laid-back hip-hop, swing groove and an intense, intricate horn arrangement; a nod to the big band tradition that inspired the composer, alternating into these conventions, rather seamlessly as poignant, politically fueled verses by Harris and gorgeous vocals from Burrell weave into the piece. It also features an improvisation from Adams on trombone using a megaphone-mute of his own invention which he calls the “megabone”. Upon listening, one might think this is a distorted guitar solo because of the original, guitar-like tone Adams conjures from his horn. “The Long Neglect” is another stellar arrangement from Adams with hip-hop elements and an evocative alto solo from Mazzarella. The track conjures the energy of A Tribe Called Quest with its swinging horns.
“Moment of Truth” features solo from Johnson, Breaker and Bradfield, with the latter’s particularly expressive, and is without spoken word or vocals. This, more than any other cut, is reminiscent of those great Thad Jones big band albums. “So It Goes’ is a vehicle for Mindeman’s piano bluesy piano solo and comping with Burrell’s soulfully lush vocal swathed in horns as Breaker and Sommers fill the bottom. “From This Moment” simmers it down as Allemana’s guitar and Sommers’ bass take the leads. Allemana chooses his notes judiciously and soulfully.
The upbeat “I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” hearkens back to the classic R&B tracks of the 70’s, ideally arranged for Burrell’s vocal. Chris Madsen takes a tenor solo after words from Harris, ending dynamically with powerful ensemble horn parts. Adams’ instrumental epic “Wise One,” written by John Coltrane, demonstrates the trombonist’s facility as an arranger. Bradfield’s sax solo is adapted from this tune on John Coltrane’s Crescent. Allemana punctuates the tune with inspiring playing as well.
The album closes with its strongest political statement, “Anthem For a New Generation of Sociopolitical Reactionaries”, a stirring composition intertwining a reharmonization of “God Bless America” with the words of Donald Trump, and fiery verses from Harris emphasizing the vocalist’s derision of Trump’s remarks and disdain for his policies.
‘Not There Yet’ strikes the balance between protest album and soul/hip-hop celebration while demonstrating the deep virtuosity of each individual and the cohesiveness of a tight large ensemble. The powerful horn parts, imaginative arrangements, expressive solos, and Burrell’s vocals are first rate.