Monday, August 22, 2022

EEE Eubanks-Evans Experience Two Like Minds Create Together

Two Philadelphia musicians, separated by an almost generation of age, have nonetheless found themselves linked by a foundation in music that emerges, in part, from their shared Philly experience. 

Guitar wizard Kevin Eubanks is a member of a jazz family that includes his two brothers, younger Duane a trumpeter, and elder brother Robin an established trombonist. Eubanks attended Berklee and has worked with drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Sam Rivers, and bassist Dave Holland. The guitarist made his presence known more widely to the public when he became the musical director of the band of the Tonight Late Show and the subsequent Jay Leno Show from 1995-2010.  

Orrin Evans attended Rutgers, worked with drummer Ralph Peterson, saxophonist Bobby Watson, soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, and studied with master pianist Kenny Barron. He has made his mark with his work with the quartet TarBaby, his Grammy-nominated Captain Black Big Band, and increasing his exposure to a wider audience by replacing leaving pianist Ethan Iverson for a time with The Bad Plus.

These two created a dynamic duo for this album and titled it the Eubanks Evans Experience. The synergy here becomes apparent from the opening cut “Novice Bounce,” a Eubanks composition from his debut album Guitarist from 1983. This groove starts with some delicate guitar work and some precisely accompanied piano work that demonstrates just how in-tune these two can be. Like two joyously dancing fairies in an enchanted forest, there is a magical air to this one. The group morphs it into a more soulful endeavor with Evans' syncopated piano. Eubanks guitar increases the funk quotient without ever losing the sensitivity. His slithery guitar work shows a commanding articulation and an inherent flare that are impressive.

One of the most beautiful interpretations from the duo takes a soul/funk, some may say smooth jazz, hit from trumpeter Tom Browne from 1980 titled “Dreams of Loving You.”  Eubanks and Evans reimagine this as a dreamy haunting ballad. Evans introduces this with a sensitive statement of the catchy and moving melody. Eubanks is the star here with his deft modulating guitar sound that emerges from Evans’ entry with an almost eerie Theremin-like sounding line that eeks with longing and pathos. This one is just beautiful.

The two break it up with a blues/funk-drenched collaboration “I Don’t Know” that raises the temperature of the proceedings up a couple of notches. Eubanks guitar is slippery and gut-busting and Evans’ piano takes on the feel of a barrel-house honk-tonk. The two get into it and play off each other’s ideas telepathically in a way that flows spontaneously.

“As They Ran Out of Biscuits” is a free-style collaboration that seems to be built by establishing a groove and then taking the improvisations to where they may go. This is probably the least structured and most adventurous of the set. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea but there is a real joy to absorb the active fluid collaboration going on here.

Orrin Evans composed the next ballad “Dawn Marie” for his wife. Eubanks opens the song with his own creative lead before the two enter this fetching melody. Evans plays beautifully here. There is obviously a deep connection with the loving sentiment that Evans intends to convey with this composition, and his touch and feel speak volumes. Eubanks is a master of using his electronics on his guitar to enhance his instrument’s effect. Here, his control is spookily modulated, perfectly aligning his sound to the mood intended.

The last two cuts of this album “Variations on the Battle” and Variations on Adoration” were both apparently recorded live at Chris’s Jazz Café in their hometown of Philadelphia. The two use two songs Evans’ “Half the Bottle” from his album #knowishalfthebattle of 2016 and Eubanks's “Adoration” from his album Zen Food from 2010 as the armatures upon which to improvise and expand. In the longer “Variations on the Battle” Eubanks exhibits a fusionist approach. His lines bloom in front of you as he gestates his ideas in an organic process that compliments over Evans' fertile backdrop. These two are brain-linked when playing so there is no hesitation, no awkward transitions they simply follow each other intuitively.

The shorter “Variations on Adoration” has a more melodic identity and Eubanks gently finger picks the entry as Evans creates lush pianistic lines. There is an exploratory feel to this composition as the two find a pulsating path to follow here, one that has a heartbeat of its own.

Eubanks Evans Experience is just that an experience; one that requires attention, one that requires awareness of nuance, and the ability to appreciate the true creative excellence of these two marvelous musicians. I will be looking forward to more from these two.


Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Recollections of past experiences :The Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts

Michael Wollny Trio: Ghosts ACT 9956-2

Michael Wollny and his trio have recently released their latest album, Ghosts, on ACT recordsThe album reunites the German pianist with the progressive American bassist Tim Lefebvre and the spatial percussionist Eric Shaefer. Together these three made quite an impressive debut on their first outing together in the 2013 title Weltentraum. The album set a high-water mark in the pianist’s career and established Wollny with this trio as a creative force that could conjure up a body of music that could excite and intoxicate the listener. Wollny describes the trio’s unique simpatico, "The three of us are aligned in a special, inexplicable way. It‘s hard to describe but the effect is massive."

Tim Lefebdre, Michael Wollny & Eric Shaefer (photo credit Gregor Hohenberg)

Wollny develops inspiration for his musical adventures utilizing off-beat themes. In Weltentraum, the album was based on night songs or dreams. In Ghosts, Wollny describes his concept of how some songs are possessed by spirits, spirits of remembrance. "As an improviser, you often find that it‘s not the compositions themselves you‘re playing, but your own memories of them. And as these memories come back to you in the moment…” On Ghosts, the artist chose a diverse selection of songs, each with a distinct memory for him that personalizes his interpretation of them. There is a logic to the way Wollny cleverly links all these compositions by what he views as their unifying factors. Lost love, forgotten love, loss of simplicity, sentimental recollections, yearning, fragility, sadness, these are the ghosts that linger in the music long after.  The album includes Gershwin’s bittersweet  “I Loves You Porgy,” a traditional Irish folk song “She Moved Through the Fair,” Shubert’s "Erlkönig," Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ “Hand of God”, Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Way,” Paul Giovanni’s “Willow’s Song,” from the horror movie Wicker Man,  Timber Timbres’ “Beat the Drum Slowly” and “Ghosts” by David Sylvian, along with two of Wollny’s own theme derived compositions “Hauntalogy” and “Monsters Never Breathe.”

The trio offers a dynamism that is quite captivating, with the music making its musical impact in tight, often brief, precisely executed cuts. Wollny‘s piano sets the tone establishing ostinato grooves or fleet arpeggios that carry you with energy and authority. Lefebvre’s bass bellows with facile, vibrant lines that carry the pulse with a sometimes-tempestuous quality; especially impressive is his lead-in to “Hand of God.” Check out the loping lines of Lefebvre’s bass on Wollny’s “Monsters Never Breathe.”  Shaefer’s drums can wrap the sound in a cirrus-like whisp of atmosphere or erupt with a cauldron-like boil of intensity.

Wollny has assembled an excellent trio that can take long familiar compositions and re-imagine them in new and surprising ways. Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” erupts with drive before stating the beautiful melody with passion. There is a poignancy to this song and these three interpret in a contemporary way, creating a drive that never erases the sentiment. Shubert’s "Erlkönig" is modernized by the group into a new century. How would Ellington have imagined his “In a Sentimental Way” being played so barely and in such an expansive, cadenced way? Perhaps the Irish folk song “In a Sentimental Way” retains the most melodicism in the set while still being brought forward in the group’s own inimitable way. Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum” features shimmering cymbals by Schaefer and a cadenced piano line by Wollny, as Lefebvre’s bass pulses with a heartbeat consistency.

Take a listen to this album and see if you too are not drawn into the dynamic, entrancing world these three musicians create with Ghosts

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any videos of this new music, but here is the same group from their 2015 performance at the Jazz Baltica. Enjoy!