(4 / 5)
Since his 18-year residency as guitarist and music director of US TV’s “The Tonight Show” band ended in 2010, Philadelphia-born guitarist and composer Kevin Eubanks has been making lots of friends with his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument.
The Philly guitarist started his career with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers during the early ’80s. Choosing to play without a plectrum, a la Wes Montgomery (although Montgomery used his thumb to get his unique sound), Eubanks dropped some very decent solo albums on Blue Note and the GRP label, and three albums with Mack Avenue Records: “Zen Food”, “The Messenger” and “Duets” (with Stanley Jordan).
On this classy instrumental album, his fourth for the label, he is working with top end musicians from both coasts, the material offering up a mixed array of styles; from urgent swingers to introspective ballads to Latin-tinged numbers and some get-down Philly funk.
Joining Eubanks on these 10 cuts are long-time collaborator and former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, seasoned session bassist Rene Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu and saxophonist Bill Pierce. Smith’s East Coast counterpart on this bi-coastal session is the irrepressibly swinging Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Dave Holland – who was also in “The Tonight Show” outfit and who Eubanks has collaborated with on his own projects over the years, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and New York trumpeter Nicholas Payton. The latter is in demand today and a rising star in his own right, adding huge value here.
Together these gifted musicians bring out the best in Eubanks’ six-string prowess and ignite his searching instincts throughout the sessions in Los Angeles and New York. The album kicks off with “Time Line,” an urgent swinger paced by Holland’s signature walking groove and Watts’ inimitable polyrhythmic burn. Eubanks digs in with fingers on strings in his trademark percussive attack, alternately doubling the baselines and dealing in Wes-style octaves on his solo. Payton also turns in a trumpet solo that bristles with energy.
The East Coast crew next settles into the gentle “Watercolors,” which has Payton delivering a beautifully lyrical solo on this melodic track. The introspective “Poet” introduces Orrin Evans on the Fender Rhodes engaging in a sparse and tender duet with Eubanks on the opening four minutes of the tune. The guitarist shifts from warm-toned electric to nylon string acoustic, while Evans moves from Rhodes to acoustic piano in the second half of the tune.
“Carnival” has Eubanks digging in more forcefully on his nylon string acoustic guitar. The West Coast crew gives us a mambo-flavoured arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane. Eubanks next extrapolates on a motif from Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse,” which has him doubling on steel string guitar and bass, accompanied only by Mino Cinelu on percussion and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums.
The ensemble’s take on Kevin’s uncle Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant,” has the guitarist alternating between acoustic and electric, while Bill Pierce supplies a soaring soprano sax solo. Following the familiar soprano sax intro on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the band leaps into a swinging rendition of that ’60s anthem, that has Camacho walking persuasively and Eubanks alternately comping pianistically and soloing with Wes-styled octaves.The collection, produced by Eubanks, closes with a gorgeous reading of the standard “My One and Only Love.”
By Christopher Weston
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’