Kevin Eubanks replaced Branford Marsalis as the leader of The Tonight Show Band back in 1995. He held the position right up through 2010, stepping down at the end of May. His easy going nature and good humor made him a strong asset to The Tonight Show. Bantering with host Jay Leno night after night, he achieved a high degree of name recognition over the years. Eubanks presumably hopes that popularity will follow him with the release of Zen Food, his Mack Avenue Records debut.
Eubanks was an established jazz guitarist long before his time on The Tonight Show, both as a sideman and bandleader. His debut album, bearing the minimalist title Guitarist, was released in 1982. He recorded sporadically during his time on late night television, but Zen Food marks a "not so foreign" new chapter for Eubanks. He's back to being a composer and recording artist. "That's all I used to do," Eubanks emphasizes in the album's press notes, "Musically I'm at a different level, as well as personally."
Leading a quintet through mostly original tunes, Eubanks favors a slow, simmering build with plenty of room for his musicians to stretch out. "The Dancing Sea" opens the set with a killer riff that serves as the foundation for an increasingly intense performance. It's an exciting way to kick off the album. "The Dirty Monk" epitomizes the slow-burn feel of much of the album, beginning with some laid back guitar work. One of the lengthier tracks, it escalates to a frenzied full band jam. Gerry Etkins contributes some impressive keyboard soloing.
"6/8," the title referring to the tune's time signature, spotlights the hypnotic bass playing of Rene Camacho. Bill Pierce works up a sweat on tenor sax before tossing it to Eubanks. His fluid, lightning-quick runs makes this possibly his finest solo on the album. Near the end of "6/8," Marvin "Smitty" Smith's drum solo helps lead the band into overdrive for a funky finale. At the other end of the spectrum is "Adoration," an acoustic guitar and keyboard duet boasting the record's most gentle and melodic moments.