Philadelphia-born guitarist, composer Kevin Eubanks has been building a creative catalog and playing style since his 18-year tenure as the guitarist and music director of TV’s, The Tonight Show Band ended in 2010.
Eubanks took New York by storm, starting out in straight ahead jazz clubs, followed by progressive albums for contemporary jazz giant GRP Records and legendary Blue Note Records, frequent collaborations with cutting edge bassist Dave Holland, on “The Tonight Show” he played with seemingly every meaningful musician across all genres. Eubanks brings his vast experience, unique right hand technique (choosing not to play with a pick) and his ability to meld styles under the jazz umbrella to his 2017 album, East West Time Line. On this newest offering, Eubanks explores the chemistry he preserves with musicians based on the two opposite coasts and historically, the two styles of jazz. And once again, his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument is in the service of the tunes that run the stylist gamut from burning swingers, to thoughtful ballads, to Latin-tinged tracks and some enjoyable Philly funk.
Joining Eubanks on this outing is longtime collaborator and former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, who fuels the West Coast outfit alongside seasoned session bassist Rene Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu and saxophonist Bill Pierce. Smith’s East Coast counterpart on this bi-coastal session is the swinging Jeff “Tain” Watts, a force of nature on the kit who combines with bassist Dave Holland, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and New York trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Together these great musicians bring out the best in Eubanks’ six-string prowess and ignite his searching instincts throughout the sessions in Los Angeles and New York. Eubanks expands on the project, “Of course, we all came up through New York,” says the guitarist who broke in with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers during the early ’80s. “But we also got the benefits of seeing the East Coast down and dirty and Hollywood down and dirty too. We combined both vibes on this recording—the kind of Latin vibe of Los Angeles and the straight up swinging vibe of New York.”
The album kicks off with the East Coast crew performing “Time Line,” an urgent swinger paced by Holland’s signature walking pulse and Watts’ polyrhythmic kit work. Eubanks right hand technique allows him to get a sonically different percussive attack rather than if he just used a pick, it also affords him the ability to play more independent parts or counterpoint within his musical ideas. For example, his alternating doubling the baselines and dealing in Wes-style octaves on his solo in “Time Line,” reveals the uniqueness of his technique. Payton’s strong brass trumpet sound turns in a solo that bristles with energy and “Tain” brings his usual rhythmic power through musicality on the kit during the tag. Eubanks gives his thoughts on the track, “There’s something a little Philly about that groove. I mean, it’s a long way from when I was playing in the neighborhood bands but basically that’s a little Philly vibe in there.”
The introspective “Poet” introduces Evans on the Fender Rhodes engaging in a sparse and tender duet with Eubanks on the opening four minutes of the tune before the full band enters. All though, Eubanks predominantly takes the solo role during the intro. He keeps a central theme throughout, with Evans playing the supportive role, but when Evans does take the lead, he matches Eubanks musical language and style perfectly. The guitarist shifts from warm-toned electric to nylon-stung acoustic after that distinct break, while Evans moves from Rhodes to acoustic piano in the second half of the tune. The melody is beautiful and Evans chordal colors are perfect. The group returns to the original theme for the ending and really makes an enjoyable musical journey that is jazz and much more.
The West Coast crew opens with a mambo-flavored arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane.” Eubanks articulations are percussive in his attack, slightly on top of pulse of the clave-fueled groove, leading to an exceptional musical statement. 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 Cinelu on percussion and Smith on drums.
The West Coast crews take on Eubanks’ uncle, Ray Bryant’s “CubanoChant” has the guitarist alternating between acoustic and electric guitar, while Pierce supplies a climbing soprano sax solo.The guitarist explains his directive to the musicians on this popular Afro-Cuban flavored track. “I just said, ‘Let’s just get compassionate on this…let’s breathe on this and let it float so it’s not all stick it and quit it. The influence of Latin jazz is undeniable when you’re on the West Coast long enough, and I wanted to reflect that in this session.”
Overall, Eubanks first bi-coastal recording is a great set of music with many styles, amazing playing and most importantly, it really is a creative project that is accessible to all music lovers. Eubanks speak about the overall project, “I think because I’m so familiar with all the musicians and we played together over the years in different settings, on different tours, that it helped the music quite a bit. There’s something that goes with friendship, knowing everybody’s journey to a large extent, that really enhances the communication between the players on a session. It’s that thing where everybody’s pulling for each other to do well and trying to make each other sound better, and you keep your sorry-ass ego out of it. We all have egos, we’re human beings and everything, but through the love of the music and wanting the best, good things happen. It’s really such a wonderful kind of democracy that you don’t see in other things. I think jazz music is the most perfect example of democracy in action.” Well for me, that pretty much sums it up -Enuff said!
01 Time Line
05 Something About Nothing
06 Take the Coltrane
07 Captain Señor Mouse
08 Cubano Chant
09 What’s Going On
10 My One and Only Love
Bass – Dave Holland (tracks: 1 to 5), Rene Camacho* (tracks: 6 to 10)
Drums – Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts* (tracks: 1 to 5), Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith* (tracks: 6 to 10)
Guitar – Kevin Eubanks
Percussion – Mino Cinelu (tracks: 6 to 10)
Piano, Electric Piano [Rhodes] – Orrin Evans (tracks: 1 to 5)
Producer – Kevin Eubanks
Recorded By, Mixed By – Robert M. Biles
Tenor Saxophone – Bill Pierce (tracks: 6 to 10)
Trumpet – Nicholas Payton (tracks: 1 to 5)