Charles Eubanks: Birds of Bagdad (2004)
The art of solo piano has always been one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors in jazz. The piano is a symphony and, in the hands of the skilled player, possessed with imagination and nerve, it can be breathtaking. Into this tradition steps Charles Eubanks and he acquits himself well.
Takes 3 and 4 of "Landscape," with its echoes of Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma," bookend this recording. The suite "Making Overtures" follows. Ruminative in its opening movement, "My Motives," Eubanks plays a plangent, blues-based call-and-response pattern. As the suite progresses, however, the feeling emerges that a less lengthy improvisation might have enhanced the overall effectiveness of this long track.
In the middle of this recital, he explores compositions by three jazz stalwarts and one from a Tin Pan Alley icon. "Trinkle Tinkle" contains the humor with which Thelonious Monk imbued so much of this work, but the execution is all Eubanks. He cautions in the notes: "... for all students of Thelonious Sphere Monk, I have extended the solo form." He skitters around the tune for the first half of this performance before easing into a more traditionally architectural exposition of the theme that displays his quirky rhythmic sense.
Even more offbeat is the quasi-stride rhythm he employs for Miles' "Dig." Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" is the most conventional treatment of the set, relatively speaking. Never straying far from the theme, he pushes and pulls the rhythm and occasionally breaks into a straightened out passage, only to begin the process again, always in control. Last, in this middle section of tunes, is Tom McIntosh's "The Cup Bearers," a heartfelt dedication to Tommy Flanagan, a theme he obviously relishes.
"Birds of Baghdad" juxtaposes onomatopoetic birdcalls with the rumbling bass chords of war and the chaos in between, offering a stark take on modern-day turmoil. The suddenness of the dark chords at the low end of the keyboard is often jarring. A lovely middle section eventually breaks into a straight-ahead section before ending with an exchange once more between the twittering birds and more ominous, low rumbles.
The more conventional "Roadmap to Swing" is a balm for what has just come before. After a lengthy, discursive opening, he takes care of business. Eubanks offers an exhilarating ride in this thoughtful, passionate and thought-provoking solo set.
Track Listing: 1 Landscape [Take 3] Crawford, Eubanks 7:45
2 Making Overtures: My Motives/Pensiveness/Solace Eubanks 18:34
3 Trinkle Tinkle Monk 6:47
4 Dig Davis 2:34
5 How Deep Is the Ocean Berlin 4:05
6 Cup Bearers McIntosh 4:20
7 Birds of Baghdad Eubanks 11:22
8 Roadmap to Swing Eubanks 11:37
9 Landscape [Take 4] Crawford, Eubanks 5:32
Personnel: Charles Eubanks - piano