This collaboration between guitar great Kevin Eubanks and the charismatic, adventurous pianist Orrin Evans is one of those long dreamed of projects that came to fruition with the time afforded by the pandemic shutdown. EEE- Eubanks-Evans-Experience comes via Evans’ label, Imani Records, and has the two risk-takers exchanging licks in a relaxed, spontaneous way, both in the studio and live on stage at Philly’s famed Chris’ Jazz Café. Both were born and raised in Philadelphia and reflect the music they grew up on – be in jazz, soul, funk, and even a bit of Sun Ra. Even though the credits ascribe two of the compositions to Evans, three to Eubanks, and one to both along with one cover, the music was mostly decided on the spur of the moment.
The opening “Novice Bounce” traces to Eubanks’ 1983 debut Guitarist. The tune begins with spare, tinkering notes from Evans before Eubanks joins in the improvisation that builds into soulful, at times funky interplay, as the two trade lines and deliver tasteful harmonics in the process. They transform the one cover, Tom Browne’s “Dreams of Lovin’ You” from its original up-tempo vibe into a contemplative ballad to capture the feeling of “dreams” in the title. The tender restraint each exhibits makes for a gorgeous reading both here on the on the heartfelt ballad, “Dawn Marie” that Evans composed for his wife and creative partner, Dawn Warren Evans.
Unabashed freedom marks the funky “I Don’t Know” with Eubanks going into the jazz-fusion mode he’s known for in his forays with Holland and later serving mostly as bassist as Evans takes flight on the piano. Eubanks returns with a blistering attack while Evans joyfully comps. Similarly, “And They Ran Out of Biscuits!” has the two at their improvisational best with each running freely before engaging in some light patter to close it out. These spontaneous compositions begin with a single melody or groove and eventually blossom and morph into energetic interplay.
The last two are the live cuts, the nearly thirteen minutes pulsating, ebb and flow of Evans’ “Variations on the Battle” and the eight-minute Eubanks’ delicate ballad “Variations on Adoration” sans audience reaction. The latter is from Eubanks’ Zen Food album that also served as his farewell performance on The Tonight Show.
The resulting music from these two long-standing friends is by turns daring, explorative, exciting, and gorgeous.