Kevin Eubanks East West Time Line (Mack Ave)

Purposely or not, a good deal of Kevin Eubanks’ post-Tonight Show work seems to stress the breadth of his varied interests. Zen Food and The Messenger allude to fusion, funk, rock, and jazz, but rather than sketching a hazy portrait, their shifting landscapes remain legible. East West Time Line leans towards trad jazz – meaning overt swing is usually somewhere in the mix – but it too reps diversity. The 59-year-old guitarist leads a pair of discrete bands that hark to the two aesthetic worlds that have shaped his career: New York and L.A.

Talent is teeming in both units. The East Coast outfit boasts Dave Holland, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Nicholas Payton and Orrin Evans – a formidable squad that impresses even when the set of five Eubanks originals steps into the quicksand of preciousness on “Watercolors,” or rubs up against schmaltz in “Poet.” Like many improvisers, the leader is a better instrumentalist than composer; he and his cohort shine on the hard-driving “Time Line,” and create an intriguingly amorphous mood with “Something About Nothing.”

From Chick Corea to Ray Bryant, the Cali contingent has the advantage of interpreting jewels written by others – familiarity is on their side. Saxophonist Bill Pierce, bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and percussionist Mino Cinelu are a groove ensemble of sorts. An inspired syncopation drives a funky “Take The Coltrane,” and the arrangement is perfectly designed for the snaky melody. The under-heralded Pierce is imposing here, but the brightest spotlight is on Eubanks, of course. Guitar fiends will swoon for the agility and authority their hero dispenses throughout. Even in its lighter moments, East West Time Line is pretty heavy.

DownBeat

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