Jazz and electronic music have a storied history. Electronic genres like trip-hop and downbeat borrow liberally from jazz records and both are forever enamored of fusion, with its mix of jazz, funk, and rock sounds. So I was excited to hear Robin Eubanks and EB3’s new album, a unique mix of trombone, electronic keyboards and basses, and processed loops. According to the liner notes, the electronic gear was mostly utilized to double parts played in real time. Much like a delay pedal on a guitar can create an endlessly playing loop, Eubanks and his group, bassist Kenwood Dennard and drummer Orrin Evans, use loops to literally play with themselves. The group’s motto “1+1+1=4” alludes to their understanding that each member play two or more parts at the same time. In the accompanying DVD, you get to see the trio at work and it’s quite amazing. Dennard manages to play all his drum parts one-handed, using his other hand to play the bass parts on a keyboard. Eubanks records his trombone parts live, then plays them back to create the layering effect. The whole process certainly puts electronic groups who rely on samplers to shame.
The first track – Me, Myself, and I – instantly dispels notions that you’re going to hear some kind of electronica-jazz hybrid. Eubanks’ trombone is front and center (he’s the only player on the track!) and even when a chorus of sampled and looped trombones come in, nothing sounds that treated or processed. Basically, Eubanks is using electronic equipment to do in real time what studio overdubbing does in the confines of the recording. The biggest disappointment comes when the “percussion pad” comes in; it sounds like a drum machine from a 1980s new wave song, i.e. cheesy.
Mojo Jojo has a certain amount of cheese factor too, with a keyboard that sounds like an organ without the fullness of the real instrument. Eubanks’ playing is interesting throughout, but the dated sound of the other instruments is distracting. Indo is more fun, introducing for the first time the electronic trombone into the mix. The electric trombone manages to sound at the same time like a wah-wah guitar and a vocoder keyboard. Solo Latin is noteworthy for the way Eubanks creates an entire Latin percussion section out of overdubs he plays in real time. That means he drums a beat, records it, drums over that beat, records it, then drums over the two beats he’s just made to create the sound of three or four percussionists.
The last four tracks are my favorite because they heavily feature Eubanks’ electric trombone. Blues for Jimi Hendrix features an awesome, psychedelic electric trombone line that, if it doesn’t exactly match the power of Hendrix’s guitar, certainly is a fine tribute to it. To hear the trombone – a bit of a square instrument to some – sound so trippy is a great joy. Jig Saw is the kind of electro funk you might hear on a late Miles Davis album (albeit on a much smaller scale), back when he had a jheri curl and wore shiny tracksuits. House of Jade is the album’s most spacey song, an over four minute study in atmosphere, texture, and tone. Eubanks’ trombone sounds like it’s underwater throughout much of the song. X-Base is more electro funk, with Eubanks doubling his own bouncy melodic line, while Dennard triples it with his keyboard.
While I wish Eubanks’ trio hadn’t used such dated keyboard and drum sounds, I have to be impressed with the level of skill involved in creating a song with multiple layers without the use of samplers, especially when it’s just one musician creating an entire song by himself. And Eubanks’ electric trombone playing is simply badass (watch the DVD to see how he phrases those vocoder-sounding notes). While Live Vol. 1 may not be jazz enough for jazz fans or electronic enough for electronica fans, it’s a worthy effort by some extremely talented musicians.
TrackList: Me, Myself, and I, Mojo Jojo, Indo, Solo Latin, Pentacourse, Blues for Jimi Hendrix, Jig Saw, House of Jade, X-Base.
– Daniel Krow