More than simply an inspired, brilliantly performed execution of a high-concept project featuring two of contemporary jazz’s most renowned guitarists, Kevin Eubanks and Stanley Jordan’s Duets brings the two full circle from their first encounter in the early ’80s at New York City’s famed 55 Grand jazz club. After both appeared at a jazz festival in British Columbia in 2011, they decided to embark on a nine-city tour that, in turn, inspired them to clear their busy schedules and convene at Eubanks’ home studio. Whether they’re unleashing wild strum-fests such as “Morning Sun” and the buoyant, bluesy “Old School Jam” or keeping things sensual, languid and lyrical (as on improvisation-rich spins through “Summertime” and “Nature Boy”), their sparse, simple arrangements ensure that the focus is on the cool intertwining of Jordan’s electric guitar and Eubanks’ clever switch-offs between acoustic, electric and bass guitars.
Though there are no additional musicians on Duets, Eubanks and Jordan provide themselves with opportunities to share their lesser-known talents on piano by stirring up occasional sweet harmony lines. “Blue in Green” offers a thoughtful meditation via Jordan’s piano and Eubanks’ electric guitar, but the most impressive instance of this unique duality is Eubanks’ graceful, haunting ivory accompaniment behind Jordan’s laid-back, electric melody on an elegant reading of Thad Jones’ “A Child Is Born.”
Beyond the standards and the album’s core originals (which are driven by “skull arrangements” — that is, arrangements created jointly off the top of their heads), Eubanks and Jordan each brought in a contemporary pop hit to gently soften the album’s overall aesthetic. Eubanks’ choice was Adele’s mournful “Someone Like You,” whose emotion is conveyed by a thoughtful texturing of electric guitar and Eubanks’ piano. Jordan’s pick was Ellie Goulding’s synth-pop hit “Lights,” which features slow-simmering, layered acoustic and electric guitars that nicely highlight the song’s lush melody. —Jonathan Widran