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Sax and violins

Yellowjackets show a funkier side; Iconic band Kansas make a comeback; and Tannoy's speakers are a blast

Yellowjackets: Cohearance

Kansas: The Prelude Implicit

A few quality watts are all that are needed to deliver the massive dynamics and brutal bass power for which Tannoys are famous.
  • Yellowjackets: Cohearance

JAZZ fusion aficionados would probably know of Grammy Award-winners Yellowjackets, who have been churning out top-notch records since 1977 when they were formed as The Robben Ford Group.

As supergroups go, Yellowjackets certainly rank up there with the likes of Fourplay and the Pat Metheny Group, having had within their ranks such musical luminaries as Mike Stern, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Landau and, of course, Robben Ford.

Today's line-up however, comprises Russell Ferrante (keyboards), Will Kennedy (drums), latest recruit Dane Alderson (bass, replacing Felix Pastorius in 2015) and Bob Mintzer (saxophone, bass clarinet), who play on the group's 23rd release, Cohearance.

In previous albums, Yellowjackets have relied on the guitar virtuosity of members such as Ford and Landau, or guests such as Mike Stern. More recently, they have developed a sax-heavy, funky sound, with Mintzer's playing featuring prominently as it winds its way through the complex melodies and different styles that make up Cohearance.

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  • Kansas: The Prelude Implicit

What set Kansas apart from other rock acts of the early 1970s was a strong violin presence. Original fiddler Robbie Steinhardt however, left in 1981 and although the band went on to release successful albums such as Power and In the Spirit of Things without violins, hardcore fans like myself always felt that integral part of the Kansas sound was lacking.

The appointment of David Ragsdale in 1991 however, changed things for the better and his soaring, keening violin is never put to better effect than on The Prelude Implicit (TPI), marking this as one of the most accomplished Kansas records of all time and a truly triumphant comeback for a band whose last album Somewhere to Elsewhere was released 16 years ago.

To be honest though, it's a miracle out of nowhere (fans will understand this) that Kansas are still around, 40 years after their greatest hit Dust in the Wind.

Having survived the departure of founding members like Steinhardt and guitarist Kerry Livgren, the retirement of singer Steve Walsh in 2014 was widely thought to herald the end of the road. Not so - via YouTube, the band hired Walsh sound-alike Ronnie Platt and later, ace guitarist and producer Zak Rizvi, who brought with him a bunch of songs he felt were suitable for Kansas. The rest, as they say, is history.

TPI taps into Kansas's rich history, recalling their finest moments that were found on million-selling albums such as Kansas, Leftoverture and Point of Know Return.

The Voyage of Eight Eighteen (which runs for eight minutes and18 seconds naturally) reprises the classic Journey from Mariabronn from their eponymous 1974 debut, Visibility Zero is classic prog-rock with its varied pace and melody changes and The Unsung Heroes could easily be a radio-friendly hit single if the band so chose to go down that route.

But the most poignant track is a beautiful instrumental simply titled Section 60. The liner notes explain:

"On Nov 12, 2011 members of Kansas toured Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA. It was then that the band first saw Section 60. They were informed that Section 60 is the final resting place for US military personnel that gave their all during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is no national memorial for those that perished in those wars, only tombstones tended by family and friends. Therefore Kansas humbly and respectfully dedicates this song as a memorial to all those laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of Section 60''.

  • Tannoy GRF90

Venerable Scottish loudspeaker manufacturer Tannoy celebrated its 90th anniversary last year by releasing several new models, among them the GRF90, named after founder Guy R Fountain.

Weighing a considerable 95 kilogrammes in its carton, this is a big speaker that quite naturally, produces a big sound. Equipped with Tannoy's famous Dual Concentric driver (in this case, 12 inches) which is essentially a tweeter firing out of the throat of a woofer, this configuration is said to eliminate time- and phase-matching issues and also gives the sound balance at all listening angles.

Tannoy's retro styling is hugely popular in the Far East (and also Japan - who knew?) and its high-sensitivity designs mean that powerful amplifiers are not essential. (As a long-time Tannoy user myself - having started 20 years ago with the DC-700 and now with the Kensington Gold Reference - I can safely confirm this).

In the case of the GRF90, the rated sensitivity is 91 decibels (dB) from one watt, higher than the 88-89dB average of most speakers so a few quality watts are all that are needed to deliver the massive dynamics and brutal bass power for which Tannoys are famous.

Retailing at S$29,000, this is a fine addition to an already impressive line of large, room-shaking speakers that also include the Westminster, Kensington and Yorkminster.

Available at Audio Line, Orchid Country Club, 1 Orchid Club Road, #02-33B