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Artist Feature

Kevin Eubanks

With his second Mack Avenue Records release, The Messenger, 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. “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.

From the infectious groove of the title track that begins the program, the guitarist gives notice that a unique listening experience is on the way. This album is: reflective—“Sister Veil,” “Queen Of Hearts,” “Loved Ones,” “The Gloaming”; funky—“JB,” a nod to James Brown; “Led Boots,” a Jeff Beck tune; and John Coltrane’s “Resolution,” from A Love Supreme; and bluesy—“Ghost Dog Blues.” One of the funkier tracks on this recording is Eubanks’ arrangement of “Resolution” (with a vocal bass line sung by Alvin Chea of Take 6). “With ‘Resolution,’ I didn’t want to be blasphemous, with people saying ‘Oh, no, he didn’t’,” Eubanks laughs. “But I’m thinking, you know, that maybe Trane might dig it!” As for the blues: “I like playing the blues; I like to sit in and jam with Buddy Guy at his blues club in Chicago. If I had the opportunity, I’d play a lot more blues.” These particular tracks provide Eubanks and his band with an opportunity to stretch out and essentially just jam. Eubanks ultimately reflects, “We wanted the groove to take over; also, those tunes will be fun to do live, and people will be able to sit in.” 

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.”

Perhaps The Messenger’s most distinctive element is its broad sense of musicality. This is certainly, in part, attributable to Eubanks’ experience with leading The Tonight Show with Jay Leno band for so many years. But it is much more than that. Eubanks’ prestigious tenure there is probably more indicative of a situation that was a perfect fit for his musical personality. As Eubanks views it, ‘‘to me, it’s all just music.”