Kevin Eubanks Releases East West Time Line Dave Holland, Orrin Evans, Bill Pierce, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Nicholas Payton
Mino Cinelu and Rene Camacho
Since his 18-year tenure as guitarist and music director of TV's "The Tonight Show" Band ended in 2010, Philadelphia-born guitarist, composer Kevin Eubanks has been on a creative roll. On East West Time Line, Eubanks explores the chemistry he maintains with musicians on both coasts. And once again, his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument is in the service of tunes that run the stylist gamut from urgent swingers to introspective ballads to Latin-tinged numbers and some get-down Philly funk.
Joining Eubanks on this stellar outing are 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 irrepressibly 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 for a potent lineup. 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.
"Of course, we all came up through New York," says the Philly 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 "Time Line," an urgent swinger paced by Holland's signature walking groove and Watts' inimitable polyrhythmic burn. Eubanks digs in with fingers on strings in his trademark percussive attack, alternately doubling the baselines and dealing in Wes-style octaves on his solo. Payton also turns in a trumpet solo that bristles with energy and "Tain" is turned loose on the kit at the tag. "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.
Shifting gears, the East Coast crew next settles into the gentle "Watercolors," which has Payton delivering a beautifully lyrical solo on this melodic track. "This was the first time that I ever played with Nick before," says Eubanks. "I met him once or twice in passing on the road but we've been communicating on Twitter recently and at some point Nick said, 'Man, one day we gotta hit.' That's really how this connection came about. In the studio I told him, 'If you hear it, man, play it! Just feel free.'"
The more open-ended "Something About Nothing," which closes out the East Coast's grouping, has the whole ensemble exploring collectively with Evans on Rhodes, Eubanks on electric guitar and Payton turning in another exhilarating trumpet solo. "I think the title really describes the song," says the guitarist. "We're dealing with nothing but we're dealing with something. There's the bass line, and the chords are circular so you're free to go wherever you want."
The West Coast crew opens with a mambo-flavored arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Take The Coltrane." Eubanks digs in with his typically percussive attack on top of the clavé-fueled groove. 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 Mino Cinelu on percussion and Marvin "Smitty" Smith on drums.
The ensemble's take on Kevin's uncle, Ray Bryant's "Cubano Chant," has the guitarist alternating between acoustic and electric while Bill Pierce supplies a soaring soprano sax solo. The guitarist explains his directive to the musicians on this popular Afro-Cuban flavored number. "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."
Following the familiar soprano sax intro on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," the band leaps into a swinging rendition of that '60s anthem that has Camacho walking persuasively and Eubanks alternately comping pianistically and soloing with Wes Montgomery styled octaves. Smitty's interactive, swinging pulse fuels this uptempo treatment while Pierce explores the melodic theme before taking off on another flowing soprano sax solo. "The idea was to keep it brief, just kind of making a statement of, 'What IS going on?,' given the current social-political climate. And our version just had an uplifting brightness to it."
Overall, Eubanks seems exceedingly pleased with the copacetic nature of his first bi-coastal recording. "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."
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