Chicago Yestet gears up with music of empowering politics

     This powerhouse 13-piece heartland jazz band shouts and signifies mightily, striving to bridge America’s huge political divide by universalizing the group’s social values. On the CD cover, the Yestet’s name and album title adorn golden meshing gears—the economic promise of an America that works together, by contrast to our dysfunctional “just say no” Congress.
     Trombonist-bandleader-composer-arranger Joel Adams holds passionate political viewpoints. The Madison native sometimes irked club owners who feared his pointed onstage comments might turn off customers.The band’s first album Jazz is Politics? (released during the last George W. Bush administration) conveyed what James Baldwin called “the fire next time,” prophesizing our current race-relations crisis.
     A savvier Adams now accents the positive and the progressive, with wit and populist eclecticism. The Yestet promotes purposive commonality to overcome polarization and the forsaking of the middle class and the poor.From the opening bars of “In the Here and Now,” this recording bursts into your ears and head. Adams’ brawny clarion trombone solo introduces vocalist Maggie Burrell, who rides kicking waves of brass with insightful commentary about social media’s pitfalls of facile friendships and easy betrayals of confidence. (Continued below).
yestet 3
Chicago Yestet vocalist Maggie Burrell
Joel Adams playing his “Mega-bone” in concert. 1
yestet bandThe Chicago Yestet. All band photos courtesy
     Scott Burns’ Coltrane-esque tenor in the modal groove bespeaks the ’60s, and Adams’ belief that jazz should emulate that era’s activism.The Yestet also persuades with romantic analogy. “What Was Ours” recollects a strong relationship ruined by sexual politics.
     Their populist flair includes a cover of Paul McCartney’s philosophically yearning “The Long and Winding Road” with an added rap spin that works. Madison rapper Rob Dz’s vocal style and viewpoint blends stylish R&B allure with this hip-hop historian’s grasp of the spoken-word art. Dz conveys sensuality or sagacity with a tonal flip of a switch, without typical hip-hop macho posturing.This band’s bracing synergy embodies its values, without browbeating.
     Their ringing message recalls Chicago political mastermind David Axelrod’s “Yes We Can!” slogan, which spearheaded Obama’s first presidential campaign. These musical citizens understand the familiar weariness in pursuing our messy democracy’s long and winding road. But it’s still ours to reclaim, and it “leads to your door.”
1. Yestet bandleader Joel Adams is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and a graduate of the celebrated University of North Texas jazz program. He has toured with Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, and played with Joe Williams, Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie. He’s also worked for many years with Clyde Stubblefield, a drummer best known for his pioneering work with James Brown. In the Chicago area, Adams has performed with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, John Faddis in the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, as well as with Doug Lawrence, Jimmy Heath and Arturo Sandoval.
    The current Yestet lineup includes the great trumpeter Russ Johnson, whose own CD Still Out to Lunch! I have reviewed here recently. Johnson moved to Milwaukee from the east coast and has added an exciting voice to the Midwest jazz scene.
The Yestet CD is available on as is their first album Jazz is Politics?
Visit the Yestet on their website at
The Yestet also has one of the best quotes I’ve read on a band’s website:
“Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four), I lift my spirits by remembering: The artists are on our side! I mean those poets and painters, singers and musicians, novelists and playwrights who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse.” — Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States and Artists in Times of War. 
This review was originally published in slightly modified form in The Shepherd Express at

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