Yellowjackets Lifecycle (Heads Up) The Yellowjackets have been in business for more than a quarter of a century now, playing fusion jazz which can't quite be called 'smooth' but is close enough to it to deter many more serious minded jazz fans. They can't be written off though, because since 1990 saxophonist and all-round wind instrument virtuoso Bob Mintzer has been their principal soloist, and he is widely respected for his big band work and other activities outside the group. Albums made since Mintzer replaced Marc Russo have had a generally higher jazz content. Only two founder members remain - keyboard player Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip - and the music has come a long way from the bluesy tunes that used to feature guitarist Robben Ford. Lifecycle seems to be an attempt to hark back to the sound of the pre-Mintzer recordings while continuing to develop his more exploratory musical ideas. For the first time in 15 years a guest guitarist features, this time Mike Stern, and his presence on seven of the 10 tracks turns up the voltage. An edgy fusion player - rooted like Ford in the blues but interested (like John Scofield, whom he played with in Miles Davis' early 80s band) in taking that music into more musically challenging territory - Stern adds another dimension to the band, and he and Mintzer strike sparks off each other as soloists. Closer to Jaco Pastorius-era Weather Report than to most contemporary jazz fusion, several tracks feature difficult time signatures, but there are also plenty of accessible melodies. The three tracks featuring the quartet without their guest star are pleasant enough, but noticeably less interesting than the ones on which he does play.