As the former Tonight Show's music director for 18 years, guitarist Kevin Eubanks admirably performed the necessary duties of leading the house band, trading comedic barbs with host Jay Leno, and whatever else it took to get the job done. But before the glamor and glitz of Hollywood, most folks probably didn't know that Eubanks was and still is a superb jazz musician who has performed with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, bassist Dave Holland, and released a number of fine recordings.
Eubanks' new chapter begins with Zen Food, showcasing his continued guitar mastery with a new band and fresh material. The recording's dynamics mirror his talent: an intrepid player with the ability to play with deep feeling; and a robust writer, covering a range of hard hitting vamps (”The Dancing Sea”), stealthy grooves (”Spider Monkey Cafe”), and blue serenity (” The Dirty Monk”), and tender ballads (”I Remember Loving You”).
The band's symbiotic connection is crucial, beginning with the cornerstone of bassist Rene Camacho and veteran trap-master Marvin “Smitty” Smith who was also a member of the Tonight Show band. Moments such as the hymnal inspired “Adoration” are vivid, as Eubanks' acoustic chord-work is the perfect accompaniment to Gerry Etkins' ethereal keyboards. The set feels, at times, like a potpourri of styles, but the high level of musicianship elevates tracks such as the Wes Montgomery-like storm of “6/8,” and the infectiously hip “G G (Gerry's Groove),” where Bill Pierce's saxophone laments sweet blues and Eubanks' electric guitar echoes the sentiment with elongated and improvised notes.
Eubanks is a complete player, whether delivering jaw-dropping solos or flavorful comps. On top of that, he's not lost his superlative chops on acoustic guitar, as “Das It” attests. This short barn-burner displays a dexterity, intensity, and muscular finger picking reminiscent of his killer Shadow Prophets (GRP, 1998). What lies ahead for Eubanks is anyone's guess, but it is sure to be an interesting journey that begins with the welcome return of Zen Food.
Track Listing: The Dancing Sea; Spider Monkey Cafe; The Dirty Monk; Adoration; Los Angeles; I Remember Loving You; 6/8; G.G.; Offering; Das It.
By Mark F. Turner allaboutjazz.com
Personnel: Kevin Eubanks: guitars; Bill Pierce: saxophone; Gerry Etkins: keyboards; Rene Camacho: bass; Marvin "Smitty" Smith.
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