Beating the reviewers to the punch, James Williams succinctly summed up this trio's mission as he peered out at the small gathering in the Catalina Bar and Grill Wednesday night. He said that the gig would consist of "intimate conversations"-- and that says it all.

Beating the reviewers to the punch, James Williams succinctly summed up this trio’s mission as he peered out at the small gathering in the Catalina Bar and Grill Wednesday night. He said that the gig would consist of “intimate conversations”– and that says it all.

For Eubanks, the featured guitarist in the “Tonight Show” band and a highly regarded solo artist (his most recent album is “Turning Point” on Blue Note), this would be a chance to cut loose, free of the constraints of commercial breaks. Clayton is the accomplished co-leader and bass anchor of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

Mainstream pianist Williams has been on the scene since the ’70s.

The accent would be on jazz and Broadway standards, the volume would be low, the balance of power shared equally by each player. The one figure who probably dominated the most was the late Wes Montgomery, whose tune “Four on Six” inspired the most interesting solos and telepathic interplay.

Eubanks, who plays with his thumb and fingers instead of a pick, spent much time evoking the ghost of Montgomery explicitly in “Four on Six” and implicitly on “Speak Low.” He emulated Montgomery’s mellow tone and chords but coupled it with a more jabbing attack and more personal structuring of each solo.

Though his music speaks a thoroughly conventional postbop language, Williams can surprise you with an occasional melodic swerve, a fleeting quote, or sensitive use of space. Clayton inventively exploited his melodic approach on the bass, sometimes using his bow to make his points — and his take on “Bags’ Groove” at the end of the first set had welcome bursts of sly humor.

Those who want to eavesdrop upon this quiet summit meeting can do so at Catalina’s through Sunday.

Kevin Eubanks; James Williams; John Clayton

(Catalina Bar and Grill; 105 seats; $ 15 top)

Production

Presented by Catalina Bar and Grill. Reviewed March 17, 1993.

Cast

Band: Kevin Eubanks, James Williams, John Clayton.
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