Label/Year: Mack Avenue Records, 2017
Lineup - Kevin Eubanks: guitar; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Orrin Evans: piano, Rhodes; Dave Holland: bass; Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts: drums; Bill Pierce: saxophone; Rene Camacho: bass; Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith: drums; Minu Cinelu: percussion.
It’s not uncommon to see the American guitarist Kevin Eubanks leaning on funk, soul, pop, and R&B to obtain the right flavors for his bending jazz style. Born in Philadelphia, Eubanks attained the peak of his career in the 80s, when he was part of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In the 90s, and for 15 years, he became the bandleader of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno while making an effort to maintain his solo career alive. Eubanks is also a reliable sideman whose work goes from avant-garde (with Oliver Lake) to progressive post-bop (with Dave Holland and Billy Hart) to more traditional jazz (with Diane Reeves). Recently, he has set his guitar on fire in Orrin Evans’ #knowingishalfthebattle.
His new record, East West Time Line, is divided into two distinct parts, each of them comprising five tracks and a different band.
The first five tunes are all originals played in the company of amazing East Coast artists like Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Orrin Evans on piano and Rhodes, Dave Holland on bass, and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.
The opening piece, “Time Line”, a bright, infectious fusion of post-bop and jazz-funk, bursts with a hard-swinging stamina and burning activity. The bandleader doesn’t waste time and shows off his advanced technique through the use of octaves, creamy harmonic sequences, intervallic erudition, and steadfast phrasing.
“Watercolors” is a 3/4 acoustic demonstration of musical faculty. It’s an Eubanks’ original composition despite carrying the same title and mood of Pat Metheny’s 1977 tune of the same name. Although the pace is not winged, there’s a palpable energy overflowing from the consonant arrangement and enhanced by Payton’s terrific solo.
The Fender Rhodes of Evans, whose chord progressions take us to the universes of pop and soul, dominates the first half of “Poet”. For the second half, he switches to acoustic piano, exuding tranquil sound waves with the contribution of Holland and Watts. A distinct intensity emanates from “Carnival”, a pulsating crossover jazz experience with two unequal passages.
Absent from the two tunes mentioned above, Payton returns for “Something About Nothing”, an atmospheric but still groovy funk-rock-jazz excursion.
The last five tunes are renditions of songs chosen from different musical spheres, featuring a West Coast band composed of saxophonist Bill Pierce (also a former Jazz Messenger), bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, and French percussionist Minu Cinelu.
They dug Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane” with a half-funky half-Latin feeling, Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse” with a hazy straight-ahead adhesive label affixed, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with happy vibes. However, it was through the moving standard “My One and Only Love”, where Pierce exceeded the limits of beauty in his improvisation, and the jazzified “Cubano Chant”, a tune of melodic slickness composed by Eubanks’ uncle, Ray Bryant, that the band captivated me the most in this second set.
01 – Time Line ► 02 – Watercolors ► 10 – My One and Only Love