Guitarist Kevin Eubanks merges musical landscape of East and West coasts

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. The Mack Avenue Records project is set for release on April 7.
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 in a recent news release. “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.”
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 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.”

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks showcases breadth of artistic influences on “The Messenger”

With his second Mack Avenue Records release, The Messenger (available on Feb. 19, 2013), acclaimed guitarist Kevin Eubanks continues to explore his own unique musical vision. This vision offers the listener an opportunity to share a musical journey that truly exemplifies where Eubanks is at this stage of his illustrious career; one that, for over three decades, has seen him incorporate into his creative process a willingness to embrace the broad spectrum of his musical experience, while continuing to seek out new vistas.

The Messenger is a project that reflects not only the guitarist’s virtuosity on his instrument, but also his impressive compositional skills-writing all but two tracks. Best described simply as a “Kevin Eubanks” recording-without specific categorization-as his intent with The Messenger is to communicate the breadth of his artistic influences.

“I wanted to branch out a little bit more on this recording,” Eubanks states in a news release. “I didn’t want to be as concerned with the ‘jazz sound’ as much; I wanted to let out a little bit more of what I’ve been musically exposed to.” Eubanks compares this philosophy to sports: “It’s like with professional athletes; most of those guys can play three or four sports. Society makes you choose one or the other. But that doesn’t change who you are inside,” or in Eubanks’ case, preventing him from showcasing his versatility on this album.

Eubanks is joined on most tracks by his sterling fellow quartet members: Billy Pierce on reeds, Rene Camacho on bass, Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion. This project also has a family flavor, featuring younger brother Duane on trumpet (“Sister Veil,” “JB,” “420”), and older brother Robin on trombone (“JB,” “Queen Of Hearts”). For Eubanks, in addition to his brothers making valuable contributions to this recording, their involvement is representative of something more.

“Their participation came about through some conversations that we’ve had, and I asked them if they’d like to be a part of the record. We’ve actually been talking about doing a family project for years, so their participation is really an entry to that,” he says.

The Messenger is Eubanks’ testament to being musically honest. It’s a realization of what he feels is particularly important at this point of career and his life.

“I feel that I’m at the point where I just have to be me,” he says. “I want to do what has the most immediate honesty, and just lay it out.” Throughout the album there is a feeling of exploration and revelation that invites the listener in. The guitarist never ceases to surprise, creating a program reflecting that honesty-offering a full range of moods, textures and tempos.

With this album, Eubanks takes another step in his evolution not only as a guitarist and composer, but also as a musical communicator. It’s his way of making a statement about his personal view regarding the musical spectrum and its place in our lives, with sincere ideas of spreading the word to others. Arriving at the name of the title tune, Eubanks explains, “There is an urgency about it; it has the energy of a message that really should get across. The Messenger, I feel, is in everyone. We’re at the point [in our lives], that whatever it is that you feel strongly about, that can help a person or persons that you love, or a situation that affects your life…you should let that message out”.