Kevin Eubanks' second Mack Avenue release, 2012's The Messenger, follows up 2010's Zen Food and once again showcases the guitarist's knack for groove-oriented contemporary improvisation that straddles the line between R&B-infused smooth jazz and more adventurous and funky post-bop. Prior to his tenure leading The Tonight Show Band for Jay Leno, Eubanks was an accomplished modern jazz guitarist. While he did release a few albums during his time on The Tonight Show, Eubanks seems to have thrown himself back into full-time recording mode after parting ways with Leno in 2010. Where Zen Food found Eubanks delving into a mix of ruminative, often folk-inflected acoustic numbers and atmospheric jazz instrumentals, The Messenger is a decidedly more extroverted affair. Here, Eubanks is once again backed by several longtime cohorts including drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith, bassist Rene Camacho, and saxophonist Bill Pierce. The Messenger also reunites Eubanks with his jazz musician siblings, trombonist Robin Eubanks and trumpeter Duane Eubanks, for several tracks. In that sense, the album recalls Eubanks' early, more hardcore jazz leaning efforts like 1982's Guitarist, 1984's Sundance, and 1985's stellar Opening Night. Like those albums, The Messenger is an enjoyable balance of groove-oriented improvisation, atmospheric ballads, and funky, contemporary instrumental jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar