Duane Eubanks Quintet/Sextet: Second Take

Duane Eubanks Quintet/sextet
Second Take
TCB - The Montreux Jazz Label

There always seems to be space these days for a good Hard Bop outfit. It was rather different 30 years ago when it seemed that Art Blakey alone was keeping the groove alive. However, by the early ’80s the cult and club following that he had gathered round him, in what were the closing stages of his career, rekindled interest in the whole sub-genre. Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” returned to the dance floor and old Blue Note records were dusted off to enchant a new, younger audience. Modern jazz with plenty of kick, fiery soloing without the difficulties and dissonance of its immediate predecessor (bebop) and successor (free jazz) – who could fail to like it? Since then the re-issues have formed a constant stream and new releases are almost as frequent.

This set from trumpeter Eubanks consists of material that would grace any classic date and is handled competently if fairly straightforwardly. It won’t go down as a milestone but, as an example of how the music sounds in the hands of some capable contemporary players, it doesn’t disappoint. In fact you might find yourself playing it rather more often than some more adventurous sets. Hard bop is very listener friendly stuff.

Eubanks is the youngest of an almost unfairly gifted set of brothers. Kevin is the best known but Robin (who joins him here) is the one to watch. His recent trombone work with Dave Holland has won him much praise and, with due respect to his baby bro’, his is the most memorable playing on the session. Not that it is of paramount importance since hard bop is a group thing and this is a group with a real sense of common purpose.

For that Duane can take full credit. His stated aim was to re-introduce the stable working unit into jazz and, while he rather over-stresses its supposed absence, it is a worthy ambition. Too many recent albums, particularly at the more commercial end of jazz, have been over reliant on a single lead figure. The fact that jazz is a collective enterprise has been somewhat neglected. Here we get a band that are regular players together live and the cohesion shows.

Not that it is as simple as that. Eubanks has seven musicians at his disposal, out of which he selects a quintet or sextet for each particular number — hence the disc’s title. The players are, in addition to the Eubanks brothers, J.D.Allen (tenor), Antonio Hart (alto), Orrin Evans (piano), Dwyne Burns (bass) and Ralph Peterson (drums). All have a good pedigree yet still have something to prove — a bonus with this form of jazz whose main enemy is complacency.

The ideal hard bop set has bite and blistering attack on the uptempo numbers — which should predominate — and should include a killer ballad or two. It should always have a raw, direct quality and a few rough edges are not a failing. Second Take comes pretty close to meeting those specifications. It plays it fairly safe by raiding the back catalogue but the originals are up to scratch and there is one gamble that pays off.

Hank Mobley’s “Two and One” gets proceedings under way. It is an ideal introductory number — pacy and powerful — with the younger Eubanks taking the Blue Mitchell part. Mitchell, Morgan and Miles are the three names that spring to mind most readily in thinking of Eubanks’ horn sound — and he agrees, according to the liner notes. The Davis is there only in flashes — essentially it is the rougher, but more affable, tone that we associate with the other two that Eubanks has drawn on. Although he is not the most imaginative player on the scene he has developed the right sound for the task in hand. All the group gets involved as well and the classic “modal” structure generates an object lesson in drive and energy.

The lovely ballad “Little Bo’s Poem” follows. Vibesman Bobby Hutcherson wrote it and I think it could have used his touch. Robin Eubanks’ trombone almost compensates. Better, in terms of performance at least, is “Too Late”. This melancholy piece has Duane And J.D. Allen hitting top form and adds an unexpected gentleness to a fairly exuberant and muscular series of songs. Allen is good elsewhere but altoist Hart is superior and his work on the vaguely hip-hoppish “Ebony Slick” is the standout sax moment.

Other uptempo goodies include Lee Morgan’s “Stopstart” and the most unorthodox piece, “Enemy Within” — courtesy of drummer, Peterson. This is a composition very much for all participants and has more variety and switches of mood than is apparent on the other cuts. Peterson is a peculiar drummer, subtle yet strangely intrusive. I would have preferred him reined in a little at times, but when he gets it just right you want even more of him — odd. The same applies to the Monk-on-steroids piano of Orrin Evans, who has a truly distinctive sound that is always going to get him noticed. Again I can generally live without his rather harsh, metallic approach but on certain tunes, especially Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way”, he more than justifies his presence. The Brubeck favourite is an unlikely choice and Evans quite sensibly dismantles then re-assembles it into something more suitably turbo-charged.

By the closing jam (“Slew Footed”) most of the ammunition has been spent. Even so, this most beboppish of the tracks allows everyone to show off their chops one more time. Freedom and mutual enjoyment burst out all over and things almost, though not quite, collapse into an exhausted heap. Hardly surprising, since there is little evidence of holding back anywhere on the record. This is Eubanks’ second TCB release and marks a growth in confidence as leader and a sureness of touch as a player that should keep him in demand on the circuit. It’s a good band — though not as balanced as it believes itself to be. Nonetheless they have plenty of personality and the music does what it is supposed to. Whether the great days of Blue Note and Prestige can ever be matched is a moot point — but Second Take certainly keeps the hard bop bandwagon firmly on the right road.