Kevin Eubanks - Zen Food (2010)

Kevin Eubanks
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Most of us know Kevin Eubanks the celebrity. That Kevin Eubanks served as Jay Leno's music director from 1995 until earlier this year. Prior to becoming the leader of the Tonight Show Band, Eubanks played the guitar when Branford Marsalis fronted the group.  The band Eubanks led balanced its precarious role, providing the atmospherics of a show by playing music that had to be more than background music but less than the main focus. The band got the live audience and those of us watching on TV land fired up.

Most of us know Kevin Eubanks the celebrity. That Kevin Eubanks served as Jay Leno's music director from 1995 until earlier this year. Prior to becoming the leader of the Tonight Show Band, Eubanks played the guitar when Branford Marsalis fronted the group.  The band Eubanks led balanced its precarious role, providing the atmospherics of a show by playing music that had to be more than background music but less than the main focus. The band got the live audience and those of us watching on TV land fired up.

The music also served as the lead in to Leno's monologue, for which Eubanks played the role of Leno's straight man. Eubanks played the role well, which is why he lasted for 15 years. However, Eubanks is a talented jazz guitarist and in his own right. Eubanks continued making albums and he remained a much in demand studio artist on records made by other artists throughout his time on the Tonight Show. Still, Eubanks probably wanted to put more focus on his music career, and the upheaval that took place during Leno-Conan O'Brien dustup likely made this an idea time for him to step away.

Eubanks' latest recording, Zen Food, serves as something of a way for the guitarist to introduce (or reintroduce) himself to the music buying public. Zen Food showcases aspects of Eubanks' musical personality that Tonight Show viewers only heard in snippets. Eubanks is a serious jazz guitarist who brings creativity, diversity in pace, and an ability to fuse jazz with other genres that is so key in modern jazz guitar.

"Adoration" is an acoustic ballad that can work both as a love song and an expression of religious faith.  Eubanks combines blues and soul on the tune "The Dirty Monk," and this gives the song kind of a free ranging sound that allows it to move from an "Inner City Blues" feel to more of bluesy aura.

Eubanks gives the tune " Los Angeles " a breezy west coast vibe. He also displays a willingness to step back and allow his sidemen to take more of a lead role before stepping to the fore with some soloing reminiscent of Wes Montgomery. It shouldn't be surprising that Eubanks turns out to be an inspired and creative soloist and a solid bandleader.

Music fans had heard Eubanks before the Tonight Show, and likely before they knew who he was. He had played guitar on scores of jazz and R&B albums since the early 1980s. Still, it's nice to see Eubanks parlay the notoriety he earned from his time with Leno into a project that again shows his chops and that will raise his profile with serious music fans.  Zen Food proves that Eubanks is indeed one of today's great jazz guitarists, and a musician who is more than ready to take advantage of his turn in the spotlight. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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