Eddie Harris brought a typically snaky tune to the Montreux stage he shared with Les McCann in 1969, and if you believe the keyboard player’s intro patter on Swiss Movement, “Cold Duck Time” was the piece’s first rendition for an audience. It’s all about coiled funk, steadily unfurling itself while digging its own groove. On Cohearence, Yellowjackets glide through a tune called “Eddie’s In The House,” a stylistic echo of the Harris nugget. Instead of pulsing with heat, the celebrated smooth jazz outfit colors inside the lines, rationing its ardor and ultimately becoming a victim of its own meticulousness. Call it a battle between precision and volition.
That kind of gloss has often stymied this skilled unit. Like several tracks on Cohearence, “Eddie’s In The House” is well-designed and notable for its possibilities. The group – pianist Russell Ferrante, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, drummer Will Kennedy, and new bassist Dane Alderson – keeps everything percolating with just enough steam to entice, but they never really cut loose. “Inevitable Outcome” is a twisty romp with funk lines folding in on themselves, but ultimately it’s all pastels and polish (with a corny synth tone on top). “Trane Changing” bends the maestro’s “Giant Steps” inside out, and while Mintzer’s authority is right up front, the rhythm section’s gleam neuters the verve. Some of it has to do with production choices: the band is occasionally on the cusp of ferocity, but their adherence to smooth jazz aesthetics just won’t let them take that last step into true abandon.
Accept that and you’ll find Cohearence is flecked with cool nuances. Ferrante’s touch on “Anticipation,” the shifting pulses of “Golden State,” the MJQ-esque articulation of the title track – subtlety is their strong suit. Maybe focusing on the micro is the way to go with this record. The macro leaves a bit to be desired.