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For Kevin Eubanks, A Direction's Not Important

March 05, 1987|ZAN STEWART

Since jazz guitarist Kevin Eubanks grew up "liking everything from Mahler to Led Zeppelin to Wes Montgomery," it follows that the philosophy behind his own trio is "Anything, and everything, goes."

"I try not to put any binders on the guys as far what they want to do," Eubanks, 29, said recently. "We'll play any direction--free, straight-ahead, funk, odd meters, fusion, I don't care where it goes. As long as it feels sincere to me, and it's something that you understand and can be effective with, I'm willing to try it."

Even rock? "Sure," he said without hesitation. "I wouldn't mind playing rock--but have my doubts if I will. Still, I think that my band may evolve that way. A lot of that concept is already there . . . that raw kind of energy that rock bands have. It's in me now. I don't have to go through changes to get to it. It's just a matter of when I hear it in the music.

"Different nights bring on different things," Eubanks continued. "And the better the night, the more different and effective things you'll hear."

Though he may not care where the music goes, Eubanks demands it be of high level. "It has to be serious, then I'll have fun," he said. "It's not fun unless it's very serious."

Eubanks, whose trio--bassist Rael Grant and drummer Gene Jackson--plays at Concerts By The Sea tonight through Sunday, is also looking for split-second spontaneity from his comrades. "I want to be able to do whatever we think of instantly," he said. "I don't like it when the band waits on me. I like everyone to be very individual, and hopefully we'll follow whoever is making the most sense, whoever is saying the most at the moment. You get used to playing by habit. More than anything, I need to establish a new way of thinking."

Eubanks says that a year's tour with avant-garde saxophonist Sam Rivers was of great importance in forming his "play whatever-whenever" musical philosophy.

"We never rehearsed," he said. "We played totally free-form, and it was great. A lot of the time I didn't understand what he was doing and I'd just lay back and play more rhythm than anything else. But I did find out that it's what you're feeling that makes music happen.

"I don't understand being with musicians who can't just play whatever comes up. We get so used to rehearsing and playing songs but you shouldn't have to limit your imagination as long as you have a clear idea of what you're doing. You just have to have an environment where anything is acceptable.

"Hopefully there's a market for it."

There seems to be. Eubanks plays often, and "Face to Face," his third LP for GRP Records, is selling quite well, though the subtle, soft string arrangements (by co-executive producer Dave Grusin) behind pop and jazz vehicles are hardly of the charged intensity of the guitarist's live dates. Still, "people seem to like the record and the band dates too but the next record will probably reflect more of the live quality," he said.

Eubanks, who started on violin at 6 and switched to guitar at 13, grew up in Philadelphia in a musical family where his mother was a professional pianist and his uncles--bassist Tommy Bryant and pianist Ray Bryant--were respected jazzmen who played with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins. "It was OK to play music all day long, and I'm sure in a household without musicians that would have been harder," he said.

First influenced by classics, and then funk, rock, folk and fusion, Eubanks started playing the straight-ahead style that permeates much of his current work while studying at Berklee College of Music in the late '70s. One of his classmates, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, was instrumental in getting the guitarist into the mainstream major leagues.

"Branford twisted my arm to go sit in with Art Blakey," he said. "Of course, I was scared to death to because I didn't feel strong about that style. I was still learning a lot, and he said, 'Look, just do it.' That started it all." Eubanks joined Blakey for a year in 1980, and since has been associated with top names like drummer Roy Haynes, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Ron Carter and trombonist Slide Hampton.

Working with many of the best convinced Eubanks it was time to become a leader. "Being a utility man with a lot of others started not to be satisfying," he said. "I felt that if I wasn't being fulfilled, I'd better take responsibility and do it myself. So far it's been good to try, and the trio is finding we have a focus on our sound. That's a good foundation for growing group."

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