This performance by guitarist Kevin Eubanks seems the equivalent of strolling through an engaging exhibition of ten works – five of which are by the artist you thought you knew but the magnitude of whose gifts, you now realise, you hadn’t entirely grasped. It is also expertly curated, with a deeply personal selection of favourites from Duke Ellington, Chick Corea, Reynaldo Benson, Robert Mellin and Eubanks’ uncle, Ray Bryant. They are unconventional choices, but lovingly selected and clearly chosen to show each piece to greatest advantage, creating striking juxtapositions (from track six to ten).
The engineers have also captured the immediacy and dimension of Kevin Eubanks’ beautiful, unforced sound in all its wealth and detail. The imaginative “Time Line” is delivered with a rare sweep and cohesion, its urgency paradoxically never seeming rushed, but organically flowing. “Watercolors” and “Poet” unfold with gem-like precision and sparkle, each a perfectly wrought microcosm. But it is Robert Mellin and Guy Wood’s “My One and Only Love” that is both the crux and the culmination of this hour-long programme. Kevin Eubanks negotiates luscious balladry with skill, creating a palpable emotional impact – first with a solo and then in the ensemble.
It is very tempting to compare the two quartets, but in actual fact it confirms the validity of diverse approaches to the compositions – the music of Kevin Eubanks with the dark rumble of Dave Holland’s bass, Jeff “Tain” Watts’ fireworks smoothed over as if on a finishing anvil by Orrin Evans’ piano and the edgy glimmer of Nicholas Payton’s trumpet. And then the second quartet minus the harmonics of the piano, but embellished with Bill Pierce and his raw-silk woodwind textures, Minu Cinelu and Marvin “Smitty” Smith, percussion colourists, both anchored by the refreshingly curved notes of Rene Camacho’s bass resplendent in dynamic range and articulation.
It is, however, Kevin Eubanks for whom you would save your loudest applause, for his identification with this unique realm of music is complete and his interpretations shine with clarity and infinite nuance, whether on electric guitar, or on a range of other hollow-body electric and other acoustic guitars. But do not chide yourself if Eubanks’ music has somehow eluded you until now. This is a great place to start. And if, on the other hand, you’ve already been a devotee, then yet another very pleasurable experience of the mighty guitarist awaits.
Track List – 1: Time Line; 2: Watercolors; 3: Poet; 4: Carnival; 5: Something About Nothing; 6: Take the Coltrane; 7: Captain Señor Mouse; 8: Cubano Chant; 9: What’s Going On; 10: My One and Only Love?
Personnel – Kevin Eubanks: guitars; Orrin Evans: piano and Fender Rhodes (1 – 5); Dave Holland: bass (1 – 5); Nicholas Payton: trumpet (1 – 5); Jeff “Tain” Watts: drums (1 – 5); Rene Camacho: bass (6 – 10); Minu Cinelu: percussion (6 – 10); Bill Pierce: tenor saxophone (6 – 10); Marvin “Smitty” Smith: drums 6 – 10).