Some elements of The Messenger just shouldn’t work: the too-cute grumble/ scat on “Led Boots” and the too-delicate guitar on “The Gloaming” all but beg to tank. They don’t. Instead, the sheer force of guitarist and former Tonight Show band director Kevin Eubanks’ will makes them sound fantastic.
Indeed, Eubanks’ will goes a long way on The Messenger. It’s a diverse realm of smooth and straight-ahead jazz, blues-rock and funk. Yet it feels somehow like a unified whole. Partly that’s the high-gloss production that permeates the disc, but mostly it’s the taste and skill of the leader. Yes, Alvin Chea’s vocal on “Led Boots” approaches caricature, but Eubanks underlines it with aggressive (acoustic) rhythm guitar and distorted (electric) rips that make Chea instead seem spot-on. Eubanks himself avoids melodrama on “The Gloaming” by placing his tender acoustic in duet with tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce, whose lines equal Eubanks’ in beauty but have just enough bite to prevent them from collapsing in a pool of tears.