Kevin Eubanks: Live Last Night
By Mike Joyce
Freed from the constraints of late-night television, guitarist and former "Tonight Show" bandleader Kevin Eubanks returned to his jazz roots at the Rams Head Tavern on Thursday night in ways that seemed both liberating and exhausting. "Where's a commercial when you need one?" he quipped, after opening with a feverishly paced 20-minute fusion excursion that had a lot more in common with, say, Al Di Meola's bristling virtuosity than with talk-show funk riffs.
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Oddly enough, though a custom-made electric guitar was placed onstage, Eubanks played a flat-top acoustic for the entire performance. He extracted a wide variety of tones from the instrument, however, thanks to some electronics and a thumb-powered technique influenced by the late Wes Montgomery.
Indeed, Eubanks occasionally evoked Montgomery's signature touch by playing resonating octave runs across the fretboard, but he also displayed the speed and precision of an ace flatpicker when forging dashing unisons and tight harmonies with saxophonist Bill Pierce and keyboardist Gerry "Dr. J." Etkins. Proteges of drummer Art Blakey, Eubanks and Pierce consistently made for a potent combination, with the reedman displaying a commanding tone on soprano and tenor saxes, especially when bassist Rene Camacho and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith were charging at full thrust.
Eubanks reached back as far the 1986 album track "Face To Face" during the 90-minute show, contrasting lyrical interludes with propulsive post-bop tunes. Nothing, however, proved more weirdly evocative or harmonically skewed than the tropical-forest foray "Spider Monkeys."
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