Trombonist Robin Eubanks is well known for his versatility and inventiveness. It is no surprise, therefore, that his first big band recording, More Than Meets The Ear, is an innovative and engaging work of mainstream jazz. Various influences, across genres, infuse the intricately crafted music that, despite its precise orchestration brims with energetic spontaneity.
The cinematic "Cross Currents," for instance, features perfectly timed exchanges of intriguing phrases between the brass and the woodwinds. All the while an undercurrent of the rhythm section's Latin tinged percussive adornments elegantly percolates. Out of this tense and thrilling ambience emerges Eubanks' buttery horn with its blustery growl. Eubanks intelligently embellishes the melody and creatively pushes it away from the main theme while maintaining its accessibility. The late, great trumpeter Lew Soloff (who passed away shortly after these sessions) follows the leader in the spotlight with his clear burnished tone and a lithe and agile acrobatics that float over the ensemble's dense harmonic texture. Baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian improvises with deep lyricism, warmth and understated passion while drummer Nate Smith concludes the tune with his thunderous and breathtaking polyrhythms.
The blues-drenched "Bill And Vera," dedicated to Eubanks' parents, has at its core organist Mike King 's slow simmering groove. Around King's ardent cascade the expansive orchestral sounds coalesces into a poetic performance. Eubanks takes center stage with a melancholic and heady solo that shimmers with dark, mellifluous hues and a bittersweet nostalgia
The title track opens with soulful staccato melodic clusters. Eubanks' electric trombone adds a rocking edge. The ensemble vamps rise and fall in crisp crystalline waves. This creates a captivating framework within which pianist Glenn Zaleski languidly expands with thrilling virtuosity and intelligence. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland lets loose, from his brassy tenor, a fiery monologue with an urbane swagger. This loose sense of muscular swing transforms into stylized collective vamps that close the piece with a refreshing buzz.
Eubanks demonstrates his adventurous bent as he uses his electric trombone to channel rock legend Jimi Hendrix's unique guitar stylings. The band's exuberant and rolling beats and King's greasy vibrato filled refrains buoy Eubanks' resonant and otherworldly stimulating soliloquy. Eubanks also brings a definite and primal spirituality to the uplifting "Yes We Can." The dynamic and expressive overlap of individual instruments and the ringing thumping percussion maintain a frantic pace and an ethereal magnificence. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin shines with his acerbic fluid lines and his high blowing notes.
More Than Meets The Ear is a cohesive and exhilarating work that marks a new high in Robin Eubanks' superb career. With its variegate elements and mature balance of the polished and the raw it is, in a way, a summary of Eubanks' superlative oeuvre. Hopefully there is more to come from this intrepid artist and his outstanding Mass Line Big Band.
More Than Meets The Ear; A Seeking Spirit; Full Circle; Bill and Vera; Mental Images;
Metronome; Yes We Can - Victory Dance; Blues For Jimi; Cross Currents.
Robin Eubanks: composer, arranger, conductor, producer, trombone, percussion;
Antonio Hart: alto sax; Alex Cummings: alto sax; Marcus Strickland: tenor sax; Bobby
Lavelle: tenor sax; Lauren Sevian: baritone sax; Lew Soloff: lead trumpet; Alex Sipiagin:
trumpet; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Aaron Janik: trumpet; Jason Jackson: lead trombone;
James Burton: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: trombone and tuba; Douglas Purviance: bass
trombone; Glenn Zaleski: piano; Mike King: organ; Boris Kozlov: acoustic and electric
bass; David Silliman: percussion; Nate Smith: drums.
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