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Duane Eubanks Quintet: Things of That Particular Nature

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This is a relaxed set that nonetheless bristles with optimism and exploratory drive, toughened by challenging melody lines and taut horn blends that sometimes recall the Jazz Messengers-showing the influence, perhaps, of the late pianist and former Messenger Mulgrew Miller, whom trumpeter/flugelhornist Duane Eubanks cites as a mentor and role model. (“Holding Hands,” Miller’s jazz waltz from his 2002 LP The Sequel, is this disc’s only non-original offering.)

Rather than dazzle us with bombast, Eubanks and his compatriots-saxophonist Abraham Burton, pianist Marc Cary, bassist Dezron Douglas, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and drummer Eric McPherson-rely on imagination and musical dexterity to mine new beauty from what might otherwise seem like conventional contexts. Cadences switch rapidly from swinging midtempo themes into lightly dancing, propulsive allegro interludes, sometimes dissolving into periods of meditative languor along the way (betraying a Miles-ian influence, as does Eubanks’ soft-edged, vibrato-free tone).

“As Is” is built around a meandering melody line that seems to evoke an ever-evolving present rather than the usual forward-thrusting “musical journey” through time and space. Burton’s tenor solo, laid over Cary’s ebullient chordal splays, consists largely of phrases that begin and end on upbeats, often implying, rather than achieving, resolution-an elaborately woven aural question mark. “Beer & Water,” by contrast, is a lively bop-like outing on which bassist Douglas carries and pushes the swing as McPherson complements and enriches the rhythm on drums. “Aborted Dreams,” despite its ominous title, sounds relaxed, almost tranquil-an acceptance rather than a lament. Burton’s upward-arcing tenor solo splinters occasionally into overtone shrieks, and Eubanks tears off a few bluesy smears, but for the most part they, like the others, create strong emotion through thoughtful articulation rather than pyrotechnics or bathos.

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