LOS ANGELES – Kevin Eubanks’ February 19, 2013 debut of his second CD on the Mack Avenue label titled, The Messenger, will have worldwide audiences in literal astonishment of his unique guitar playing technique approach.
The 11-tracks on this CD has a tone that sings, and Eubanks’ phrasing avoids cliché no matter how well traveled the idiom; his articulation is both precise and relaxed, and his solos glow with a sense of freedom and spontaneity that makes the reshuffling of even the most familiar blues-bop and funk phrases sound fresh and urgent.
Eubanks is joined on most tracks by his sterling fellow quartet members: Billy Pierce on reeds, Rene Camacho on bass, Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion. This project also has a family flavor, featuring younger brother Duane on trumpet (“Sister Veil,” “JB,” “420”), and older brother Robin on trombone (“JB,” “Queen Of Hearts”). For Eubanks, in addition to his brothers making valuable contributions to this recording, their involvement is representative of something more. “Their participation came about through some conversations that we’ve had, and I asked them if they’d like to be a part of the record. We’ve actually been talking about doing a family project for years, so their participation is really an entry to that.”
Let me cut the chase about Eubanks’ past stint with the Tonight Show and get straight to the music in The Messenger. When Kevin released his long-awaited CD, Zen Food, on the Mack Avenue label back in 2010, everyone in the music critic business signed a sense of relief, because we knew what this master musician was capable of and we wanted a solid hit – and we got one!
Any performer who has ever played music will tell you there is a lot of pressure on you when you release new music – and the hope that the public will buy your stuff. Well, Kevin Eubanks can relax, because in this CD he improvises chromatic phrases modeled on the way John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and others would approach modal materials in the 1960s. If you listen very carefully, you will hear Eubanks extending the bebop and modern music idea of complicated chord changes, using the melodic minor and other scale types to generate a rarefied harmony that is more abstract than that of hard fusion bebop and funk.
You have to be very careful when you tackle a John Coltrane hit like Resolution, and try to make it your own without destroying the finesse and drive of the original. Eubanks does an admirable job in redefining the classic on the Resolution track. The guitarist is accompanied by his illustrious band in delivering the balance between some eloquent soloing and mixture of funk and bebop orchestral dynamics.
Kevin’s soft and delicate chording and insistent swing is beautifully complimented by the subtlety vocals of Alvin Chea, member of the Take 6 singing group.
One of my favorite tunes is the JB [a tribute to the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown] track, which has Robin Eubanks delivering some down-home funky trombone blowing, and Duane Eubanks carving out his own unique niche in his trumpet solos. Both musicians have their own individuality but they also have this innate ability to compliment each other while improvising on the fly!
Kevin Eubanks’ The Messenger CD provides us the opportunity to listen to a superb blues, jazz, funk, soulful guitarist, who is also endowed with a sense of form and solo shape that enables his improvisations to be models of clarity and emotional directness.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Jazz and Pop Music Critic.