Jazz CD Reviews

Kevin Eubanks – Zen Food – Mack Avenue Records

Philadelphia guitarist pours heart and soul into new album.

Published on December 21, 2010

Kevin Eubanks – Zen Food – Mack Avenue Records

Kevin Eubanks – Zen Food – Mack Avenue Records MAC 1054, 59:21 ****:

(Kevin Eubanks – electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Bill Pierce – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Marvin “Smitty’’ Smith – drums, percussion; Gerry Etkins – acoustic piano, Rhodes, organ; Rene Camacho – bass)

Kevin Eubanks seemed destined to be a musician.  His mother, a classical pianist and organist, got him involved as a young man with music. After training for violin, trumpet and piano at the prestigious Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, he would move to Boston to continue his studies at Berklee School Of Music. Having switched to the guitar, he left school to pursue a career in jazz. His early days included stints with Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Slide Hampton and Sam Rivers. By the age of twenty-five he was recording as a solo artist and bandleader, releasing four albums with Blue Note. He formed his own label, Insoul Music and six albums ensued. To date, he has played on over 100 albums, taught at prominent schools, and for over fifteen years, served as band leader for The Tonight Show, with host Jay Leno. In spite of the celebrity, Eubanks elected to return to jazz composition and performance.

Zen Food, his first release for Mack Avenue Records, features ten new pieces, nine of which are original. Fronting an excellent quintet, this album brings a cohesive sound and platform for the compositions. The styles of the pieces are varied and integrate the explosive, instrumental collaborations with subtle dialectic. “The Dancing Snow” uses simple, elegant guitar runs that flow into a tight fusion jam, held closely by Rene Camacho’s bass work. Eubanks continues with fluid guitar solos that ignite the band. A harder blues take inhabits “The Dirty Monk," as Gerry Etkins lays down an incandescent solo on Rhodes. The intensity continues with a spirited run by Bill Pierce on tenor sax. The band has a feel for the arrangements, and each other. The jazz sensitivity of “6/8” gives both Pierce and Eubanks plenty of room for up tempo improvisation. “Smitty” Smith delivers a crisp drum solo that leads into a funky break-filled conclusion.

There is a variety of musical themes throughout the album. Acoustic guitar and electric piano form a melodic tandem on the spiritual, “Adoration”. The two instruments weave a delicate frame around the introspective song. Etkins shines on “Offering” with an extended acoustic piano solo that is moving. “Los Angeles” has a West Coast vibe, with a Wes Montgomery guitar line. Eubanks returns to acoustic on the finale, “Das It”, a driving, albeit short cut, that shows his mastery of the guitar.

Zen Food
(inspired by the nurturing influence of music and a health food company) is a proper forum for a gifted player. 

TrackList: The Dancing Sea; Spider Monkey Café; The Dirty Monk; Adoration; Los Angeles; I Remember Loving You; 6/8; G.G.; Offering; Das It

– Robbie Gerson




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