Robin Eubanks has cut an impressively wide swath as a trombonist and composer, and his largest impact in both realms has been as a galvanizing member of ensembles. Those groups range from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to the early bands of the M-BASE collective through to the SFJAZZ Collective and Dave Holland’s various units around the turn of the century. By contrast, Eubanks’ two most recent projects as a leader, including 2014’s Klassik Rock Vol. 1 with his group Mental Images, were commercially hindered by his forward-thinking engagement with electronics and technology.
More Than Meets the Ear is an inspired consolidation of his skills, a big-band record stuffed with noteworthy cohorts reworking some of his gems for Holland and SFJAZZ, with some funky electronics thrown in for mostly good measure. For straight-ahead jazz buffs, it’s a hoot hearing the clave-fueled spunk of “A Seeking Spirit” and the lush and spicy “Full Circle” blown out from Holland’s quintet into a 19-piece extravaganza, with blazing solos by the likes of Antonio Hart and Marcus Strickland, topped only by Eubanks’ own inspired work. Ditto the distinctively catchy horn arrangements for “More Than Meets the Ear,” “Metronome” and “Cross Currents” that Eubanks composed for SFJAZZ, now afforded the capability of more nuance and seismic heft while providing platforms for the underrated trumpeter Alex Sipiagin and, in a glorious send-off on his final recording, the late Lew Soloff.
The electronics can be jarring in the sudden change of tone and timbre, and function better on some songs (the title track, “Metronome”) than others (“Full Circle”), while of course being integral to a number like “Blues for Jimi.” It’s simply the other side of the Eubanks sonic palette from the plush organ of Mike King on the tribute to Eubanks’ parents, “Bill and Vera.” Eubanks has bet large that there is more than a little something for everyone on this audacious embellishment of his signature tunes, and it pays off.