When Charles Eubanks (Detroit, MI, 1948) headed his first recording (June 2001) it was called New Beginnings (CIMP 250) and my notes alluded to the fact that, in speaking with Charles about the past and present, it seemed circumstances were such that Charles' journey was now at a juncture: the past now seemed the past and the future held the promise of renewal that the insight of maturity can sometimes offer up.
Since that time Charles has married, continued with his studies, and perfected the ability to express Charles Eubanks through his piano. NewBeginnings was released, made a few small ripples in the sea of issues, and was nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association as the best Jazz debut of 2002 (it lost out to Norah Jones?!?), but it did receive unusually strong positive response from the listening public. During the next year there was talk about doing a trio date with Wilber Morris, but, time and circumstance (Wilber's death) closed the opportunities. As 2003 arrived, Charles and I began discussing doing a duo project and another solo outing with a particular focus. So, we set a date and Charles tossed about various ideas that interested him, including a tribute to Wilber Morris and Denis Charles or perhaps playing some of "the old tunes" he did with Wilber and Denis as part of Luther Thomas' group or perhaps some of the tunes they "never got a chance to do." Other ideas were forthcoming, the consistent wordbehind it all being "commitment." Finally, Jessica, his wife, wrote me that "he'd like to express the shift of commitment from addictive behaviors to art which incorporates all the range of emotions ... old and new, ballads and swing and blues and boogie."
By mid spring of 2003, the duo date was dropped, but Charles came up with the title "Birds in Baghdad" for the solo set and had begun to put together the music, including "Pensiveness," a tune he had written years before. By June 20, the word was all these concepts and inspirations were still in motion and expanding.
I spoke with Charles on June 23, a few moments before he was to take off on the drive from New York City to our north country base. The conversation was relaxed, full of laughter and personal comfort. After we hung up, I reflected how much more at ease Charles seemed with me and himself as compared to 2years earlier; ease without superficiality, comfort with honesty. I felt it was a parallel to his playing and a portent of fine music for the morrow.
After his arrival, we stayed up almost to midnight, for the most part laughing at the frailties and vanities of marriage, relationships, and middle age. Charles was up at 4 a.m., wound and ready to go, but going had to be preceded by breakfast, piano tuning, and the 35 minute drive to Gilbert Hall. When we got there, Charles impatiently put up with a short sound check, not wanting to unwind prematurely the ideas and inspirations he was feeling. He opened with Landscape, the first take more form than fluidity. The second take was quite involving except that Charles worked himself into a musical cul de saq from which he could not extricate himself, excusing it as a senior moment. With the third take he pulled back but kept the focus. After that take, Charles said he would do it over again and that I could take my pick. For the fourth take he pretty much started where the third take ended and so the lines were already developed, the theme more implied, less obvious, and, from the beginning, there was greater extension of the structure, the framework of the piece, along with greater abstraction. I've issued the fourth take at the end of this concert as a sort of encore. Other than that exception, all the music here is in the order it was recorded.
For me, this ability to orchestrate is at the core of Charles' gift and the ability that separates a great piano constructionist from a person who simply plays piano. At Charles' root is the Blues, and, direct or implied, it is that essence that forms the (heart)beat and rhythm of his music and allows for the extensions of the construction of his music. Add inventiveness, meaning, and musicality and you have lasting and sustaining artistry. Charles also plays reflectively and episodically, bringing a (sincere) gravitas to his narratives. This concert has volumes of renewing spirit and insight; this is full music and I encourage the listener to indulge: allow yourself theemotion, and share liberally the richness of Charles' music: It is celebratory!
Robert D. Rusch - June 24, 2003