By Denin Koch, Contributing Writer ZEALnyc, March 23, 2017
Too often, jazz concept albums are so dedicated to their premise that the music suffers. The tunes aren’t interesting, the rhythm section doesn’t groove, and the soloists are phoning it in. With East West Time Line, however, Kevin Eubanks not only succeeds in creating a concept album full of outstanding music but ultimately delivers one of the finest performances of his storied career. The guitarist’s newest release celebrates the two sides of the jazz veteran’s sound—his roots in hard-swinging East Coast jazz and his immersion in Latin-tinged West Coast jazz after moving to California.
Eubanks splits the album down the middle and handpicks a unique band for each “coast” of the album. Both groups are stellar and play beautifully with the bandleader. On the East Coast half of the album, trumpeter Nicholas Payton serves as a perfect foil to the guitarist. Payton balances Eubanks’s fiery, rhythmic stylings with a cool-headed sensibility that keeps the rhythm section in check.
The percussion section on the West Coast quintet, made up of Mino Cinelu on percussion and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums, drives the groove with authority even as Eubanks and Bill Pierce (tenor sax) lay exotic rhythms on top.
The first half of the album is comprised of Eubanks originals while the second half features West Coast treatments of standards. The opener, “Time Line,” leads the East Coast portion off with a meter-bending, bluesy swing with a vintage Eubanks solo. Concluding the West Coast section is a gorgeous reading of “My One and Only Love” with only the guitarist and Pierce, featuring a wonderful opening chord solo by Eubanks.
East West Time Line is that rare album that succeeds at bringing great music to an ambitious theme. With this album, he shows off his signature style while moving back toward a straight-ahead approach. Look for this album to be celebrated as one of the best of the year upon its release.
Highlights: “Time Line,” “My One and Only Love,” “Something About Nothing
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