Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” band has attracted a handful of Wynton Marsalis-generation jazz artists west to L.A., though what they do in service to the show is usually not representative of their individual musical directions.
Before joining the band, guitarist Eubanks, who took over as leader from Branford Marsalis in 1995, worked with Art Blakey and had an uneven recording career. Eubanks’ direction outside the show is best represented by his early ‘90s work for Blue Note (“Turning Point,” “Spirit Talk”) and this recently released live date recorded in 1993 at Bradley’s, the now-defunct Greenwich Village nightspot.
Joining here with pianist James Williams and fellow “Tonight Show” band member Robert Hurst on bass, Eubanks covers a mostly predictable set of standards (“Speak Low,” “In a Sentimental Mood”) with equal parts respect and imagination. Hurst’s throbbing pulse makes a drummer unnecessary.
The guitar-piano blend makes for smooth theme statements that are followed by Eubanks circling improvisational phrases and bluesy asides. Fond of extending his lines to infinity, the guitarist sometimes sticks to a phrase long after the point’s been made, occasionally salvaging such lines by tagging them with a simple phrase that draws everything into focus.
Williams, a pianist deserving of more attention, often outdoes the session’s leader with his warmly melodic, personal style, best represented on his own composition “Alter Ego.” But mostly the two are complementary of each other’s sound in this relaxed, rewarding 70-plus minutes of music that shows it’s not all laughs and pop covers with Eubanks.
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