City Paper is not for tourists
Robin Eubanks’ EB3 just might be the group that helps launch jazz completely into the digital age. The trombonist, best known as the right-hand man for Dave Holland in both his quintet and big band, established the concert-only trio on two guiding principles: all three members exploit electronics onstage, and each player fills the roles of at least two musicians. (In Eubanks’ words, “1+1+1=4 and more.”) So on Live Vol. 1 drummer Kenwood Dennard plays traps with his right hand and keyboard bass with his left, and Orrin Evans jumps between laptop and synthesizer. It’s Eubanks, though, who’s truly astonishing. He’ll play a figure on percussion pads, then sample and loop it, layering rhythmic colors; he then loops horn riffs in two- and three-part harmonies and improvises over the playback of those riffs—simultaneously creating and performing arrangements. Overdubbing and sound manipulation, often thought antithetical to jazz’s in-the-moment vitality, become completely spontaneous techniques in his hands. (So the listener can better grasp what’s happening, the disc includes a DVD that shows the trio’s onstage alchemy on five of the album’s nine tracks.) The process would be worthless, however, if the neo-fusion music EB3 makes wasn’t so damned good. Eubanks’ deceptively complex compositions are loaded with instantly memorable hooks (especially “Solo Latin,” which is exactly what the title advertises) even as they employ his love of quick-shifting time signatures (“Indo” bounces between a sexy 7/4 groove and feverish swing) and blending genres from acid rock to funk to hip-hop. Eubanks’ solos—irregular, fluid, and riveting—prove that he’s one of the most virtuosic and forward-thinking trombonists around. Some of his most intriguing work, as on Wayne Shorter’s “House of Jade” and his own “Blues for Jimi Hendrix,” is done on “electric trombone,” in which Eubanks uses a special microphone to filter his round timbre into a trippy, dubby murk. Dennard, meanwhile, offers fearless drum workouts and impossibly steady bass lines, as well as his groove-heavy composition “Jig Saw,” on which he plays both. Evans’ keyboard-playing is the least palatable part of the sound; too often he uses dated voicings, lifted from ’70s fusion or smooth jazz, which threaten to lapse into schlock. But underneath their easy-listening surface, Evans’ constructions on pieces like “Pentacourse” are cerebral and intoxicating. Live Vol. 1 is a breakthrough, not just for Eubanks or EB3, but for jazz as a whole: Between the onstage gear, the DVD, and the furiously brilliant playing, live jazz and electronic sound processing have at last found common ground.