Kevin Eubanks ‘East West Time Line’ (Mack Avenue) 3/5

It may surprise some to learn that guitarist Kevin Eubanks, the elder brother of trombonist Robin, is now sixty years of age. Earlier on his career he had a brief stint as part of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey, but as of 1983 the Berkley school graduate has led his own group. If the early leader albums verged on fusion for the GRP label, then they became more mainstream in outlook as Eubanks’ music progressed with heavyweight musicians featured including bassist Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis, Ralph Moore, and not forgetting his own brother, Robin. In the early 1990s, Kevin Eubanks was signed to the re-activated Blue Note label which was promoting neo-bop and his recordings here included the participation of bassist Dave Holland, who likewise features on the first line-up of musicians on this new album.

The recording was in essence made in both Los Angeles and New York and features two contrasting line-ups with an all-star building including Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Dave Holland, while the second features regular band members including Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and saxophonist Bill Pierce, who is excellent throughout. This writer preferred the second of the line-ups insofar as with the first the sound of the guitar tends to get lost in a sea of virtuosity whereas with the second, the leader is properly showcased and finally has an opportunity to shine. Conceptually, Eubanks has reverted back to the old days of vinyl with clearly distinctive ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides. On a CD, that translates into a first part of original compositions and a second of standards. In truth, the latter are the more interesting to listen to and, while the originals are pleasant, they are not that inspirational and it is to the treatment of standards that the listener’s attention focuses on primarily.

Stylistically, Kevin Eubanks belongs firmly in the Wes Montgomery tradition and it is that sound that is heard on one of the strongest re-workings, on, ‘What’s going on?’, with a lovely solo from Pierce who is listed as being on tenor saxophone, but surely sounds like it is actually on soprano. Eubanks adopts a straight ahead approach and offers up some tasty guitar licks here.

An interest in Latin music is one characteristic of the selections made here and this includes a creditable reading of Ray Bryant’s memorable, ‘Cubano Chant’, which received blistering renditions back in the late 1950s from both Art Blakey and Cal Tjader. On this new interpretation, Eubanks starts off with a gentle guitar solo, but then the piece takes on an altogether different life and becomes a fast-paced number. Chick Corea is well known for his love of Latin music and there is something of a Latin jam session quality to the version of his, ‘Captain Señor Mouse’. Duke Ellington’s, ‘Take the Coltrane’, is given a whole new lease of life with Latin percussion, a catchy bass riff, and this writer warmed to the simple playing of the theme from Pierce. Another standard, this time a ballad, ‘My one and only love’, once again is notable for some fine soprano work from Bill Pierce.

If anything, on this recording, Kevin Eubanks seems to have ben caught between two distinctive and separate ideas, and for a future recording he would be better served devoting an entire album to the Latin jazz repertoire which he clearly has a genuine passion for.

Tim Stenhouse