by Willard Manus
Guitarist Kevin Eubanks has been known mostly for his mainstream jazz achievements--as well as his virtuosic work as bandleader on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. Now, with the release of his latest album, THE MESSENGER, Eubanks strikes off in a new direction, boldly exploring a variety of musical styles.
THE MESSENGER contains eleven tracks, all of which (but two) are original compositions of his. In each case his writing is fresh-sounding and inventive, the work of a composer unafraid to take chances. "I wanted to branch out a little more on this recording," Eubanks said. "I didn't want to be concerned with the 'jazz sound' as much; I wanted to let out a little more of what I've been musically exposed to."
Working with his usual quartet--plus horn contributions from his two brothers, Duane and Robin--Eubanks investigates the pure, heartfelt beauty of four ballads (Sister Veil, Queen of Hearts, Loved Ones and The Gloaming. Then he shifts gears and gets deep into a funk groove (JB, a tribute to James Brown, Led Boots a Jeff Beck tune, and John Coltrane's Resolution). The final surprise is a slowdrag thing, Ghost Dog Blues. (Eubanks confides in a program note that he loves to sit in and jam with Buddy Guy at his blues club, Legends, in Chicago.)
THE MESSENGER delivers the news, all right--namely, that Kevin Eubanks is, as they say in Scotland, "a man o' perts" (a man of parts). Mack Avenue Records, mackavenue.com