Duane Eubanks dropped into Chris' Jazz Café for a postholiday homecoming on Saturday, with a high-spirited quintet that wasn't quite ready to relinquish the season's celebratory vigor. Always the most understated of Philly's jazz-royalty Eubanks brothers, the trumpeter has no problem speaking loud and clear on the bandstand, especially when leading a band as interactive and electric as this one.
The quintet for this occasion was a conglomeration of first-time collaborators, featuring fellow Philadelphian Byron Landham on drums; pianist Allyn Johnson and bassist Eric Wheeler from D.C.; and Eubanks' regular frontline partner, tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton. Despite being the freshman outing for this particular combination of musicians, the band played with a raucous camaraderie that stretched the leader's tunes into lengthy, crowd-rousing workouts, sometimes overwhelming the compositions entirely - the evening's opener came out of the gate with such enthusiasm that it never got around to becoming a song per se, instead spotlighting the improvisational prowess of each member in turn.
The rest of Saturday's two sets focused largely on Eubanks' latest release, Things of That Particular Nature. That wasn't surprising, given that it was his first album as a leader in more than a decade when it dropped last January, but the long-overdue collection also arrived chock full of strong melodies and bop-flavored burners that sparked bristling, athletic playing from the whole band, from Landham's crisp ricochets and Wheeler's agile runs to Burton's Coltrane-conjuring pyrotechnics.
Its release promises to start casting a brighter light on the low-key Eubanks, who has ably, but quietly, served sideman stints with such bandleaders as Oliver Lake, Jeff Williams, and the late Mulgrew Miller while his older brothers made bigger names for themselves: trombonist Robin as a key collaborator with bassist Dave Holland and leader of his own electric bands, and guitarist Kevin with a fruitful contemporary jazz career and a 15-year stint leading Jay Leno's Tonight Show band.
Saturday's first set was highlighted by the band's rollicking leaps from Eubanks' tunes: the merrily aggressive Johnson abstracting the Bird-inspired melody of "Slew Footed" with a bold, percussive solo that bordered on Cecil Taylor angularity, or Burton's brawny but pliant tenor flowing through the soulful grooves of "Dance With Aleta." The second set expanded the repertoire, with Eubanks tenderly expressing and illuminating the melody of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes" and a guest appearance by vocalist Denise King for a suitably nocturnal, end-of-the-evening take on "Skylark."