feature photo: Anna Webber, courtesy of Mack Avenue Records
You could call this a ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ but also a ‘Tale of Two Bands’ and a ‘Tale of Originals Vs. Covers.’ Jazz guitar extraordinaire Kevin Eubanks decided to present the dualities in his musical life for his latest Mack Avenue Records release, East West Time Line (dropping on April 7, 2017). Having spent his young adult life in NYC and hanging out in L.A. since then, Eubanks made a record that’s half in the Big Apple and half in the Los Angeles, the first half utilizing the talents of New York-based musicians and the latter played by California guys. And in a final twist, the New York band plays Eubanks originals while the West Coast dates are all about covers and standards.
Starting on the East Coast, the backing band is to say the least, impressive: Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Dave Holland on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. “Time Line” swings with a capital “S” and with that all-world rhythm section, how could it not? But Eubanks pushes out the swing into the stratosphere with his rhythmically charged solo that includes gobs of chords and octaves. It’s a tough act to follow but Payton is to the task, putting out the fire with a cool, easygoing and pure-toned trumpet.
“Watercolors” finds Eubanks’ switching to acoustic guitar and a lyrical melody with a soft gait makes this appealing in a different way. Payton’s alternately piercing and emotive trumpet steals the show. “Poet” (video above) is an appropriate name for a tone poem, and Eubanks caresses it with a warm tone and tender, note-bending delivery. Joining Holland and Watts is pianist Orrin Evans but it’s his Rhodes that drops splotches of color on the song. And in a microcosm of the album itself, the song assumes a different character in middle when Eubanks goes from electric to nylon string guitar and Evans leaves his electric piano behind for an acoustic one. The beauty of the melody remains even after it’s recast.
“Carnival” again features Eubanks’ nylon string work, working hand-in-glove with Evans’ piano but the real hero here is Watts, whose dynamic rhythms pushes everything forward with controlled energy (especially during the spot when it’s just him and the soloing Holland). “Something About Nothing” stretches out in modal fashion, and with Evans on Rhodes alongside Eubanks on electric guitar and Payton’s provocative horn, this is a bit in the spirit of Bitches Brew, something about which Holland knows first-hand.
What’s immediately evident from the Left Coast recordings is the Latin influence brought on board by Mino Cinelu’s percussion. Joined by Bill Pierce (sax), Rene Camacho (bass) and Eubanks’ old Berklee mate Marvin “Smitty” Smith, this crew immediately gets to work on making other people’s songs their own. Cinelu’s cha-cha rhythm sets a loose and festive pace for Duke Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane” and the group is content to let that groove become the track’s dominant force. That includes Eubanks, who seems to be having a ball jamming judiciously in the pocket.
Eubanks returns to acoustic guitar for Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse” but with metal strings time, and his solo on this one is stupendous. The electric solo one he offers on his uncle’s song, Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant” is not bad, either. Pierce is given a bright spotlight here and puts in an invigorating turn on soprano sax. His soprano sax also serves as the familiar opening statement on Marvin Gaye’s “What Goin’ On,” a theme Pierce revisits later. But most of this rendition involves a rapid, finder-snapping swing and Eubanks adeptly handling the lyrical part through octaves.
Lastly, “My One And Only Love” is given a treatment that most closely resembles the traditional way it’s treated, that of a tender ballad. Pierce’s tenor sax is luscious and Eubanks’ electric guitar is willowy and full of soul.
For an artist whose career has comfortably crossed — and sometimes blurred — the lines between traditional and contemporary, inside and outside and self-penned music versus interpretations, East West Time Line isn’t some diversion from normalcy. This is who Kevin Eubanks has always been as a musician.
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