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Duane Eubanks & DE3: Live at Maxwell’s

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Duane Eubanks’ trumpet style is hard to pin down. While his tone is instantly recognizable, with a unique balance of brightness and restraint that nods to Clifford Brown, his application of it varies. Indeed, on the fine Live at Maxwell’s, a trio record with bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Eric McPherson (and which is only live in the sense that it wasn’t recorded in a studio, but in a Manhattan drum store), it varies across tracks.

On “Little Johnny C Blues,” Eubanks takes full advantage of the band’s harmonic openness: It’s not quite free, but one has to concentrate to hear the blues structure, and Eubanks’ pressing momentum has flashes of Don Cherry in it. But the very next tune, the mostly improvised “Saturday Moanin’,” finds him somber, almost keening, over a single chord. Then comes “Strokish,” a starkly shape-shifting Eubanks composition.

On the other four tracks, however, Eubanks has a core characteristic: cerebral lyricism. The opening “Brainfreeze” and “A Slight Taste” gain a limited amount of steam, but their main feature is the trumpeter’s spacious segments of discrete melody. On “Brainfreeze” he paces himself for harmonic effect against Douglas’ chromatic pulse. (Douglas mainly functions as a riff loop on Live, but does it with such agility and aplomb that he should be given an award.) That pace becomes downright singsong in his funky “Ebony Slick,” giving his tone a rougher edge. On the improvised meditation “Little Rock,” he takes the back seat, inserting muted, thoughtful fills into Douglas and McPherson’s incantation.

Live at Maxwell’s finds another consistent quirk of Eubanks’ sound, this one a caveat for the listener: There’s a slight thinness. This can go unnoticed when he has a fuller accompaniment, as on last year’s Things of That Particular Nature; here, however, it can rob him in places of some sonic authority.

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