Dezron Douglas, Duane Eubanks, Eric McPherson Credit: Jimmy Katz

More often than not, I’m obliged to organize my listening around release dates and live performances—I spend time with music that I’m writing about, either to preview a show or review a new album. The problem with this is that it leaves too few hours to check out stuff that I don’t have a pressing reason to get to. Recently I found myself with a chance to grab something that was released back in May and dig into it, and I’m very glad I did. The DE3 album Live at Maxwell’s (Sunnyside) was culled from a pair of sessions recorded without an audience at Steve Maxwell’s Drum Shop in New York (no relation to the defunct Hoboken rock club). DE3, as its name suggests, is a killer trio led by trumpeter Duane Eubanks; his rhythm section consists of drummer Eric McPherson and bassist Dezron Douglas.

It’s a no-frills effort that focuses on high-level group interaction and swinging performances. The sturdy original tunes let these remarkable musicians operate on a gut level—the material never gets in the way of their instincts and internalized skills. A steady presence on the New York scene, Eubanks has made a handful of albums as a bandleader—last year’s quintet recordings Things of That Particular Nature (Sunnyside) was especially good—but over the past two decades or so the Philadelphia native has worked primarily as sideman, playing with the likes of Orrin Evans, Oliver Lake, Mulgrew Miller, Bill McHenry, and his brothers Kevin and Robin Eubanks. Live at Maxwell’s proves that he deserves to be in the spotlight more often.

Eubanks has a lovely, burnished tone, and the clarity of his lines suggests that he has a solid footing in the history of jazz—flashes of horn men such as Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw turn up in his playing. A trio without a chordal instrument is a tough setting for any horn player, but it’s especially hard going on trumpet—a more physically demanding instrument than saxophone. Eubanks nails it throughout, playing with cool precision, and Douglas and McPherson are wonderful too—they give Eubanks a firm foundation on brisk numbers as well as on fragile tunes such as the gorgeous “Saturday Moanin’,” which you can hear below.

Douglas serves up a patient groove, allowing his easygoing, soulful line to cycle into infinity, with subtle asides and hushed harmonic effects; McPherson does nothing but quietly dance across his cymbals. This sort of exquisite restraint isn’t as easy to execute as it sounds, and it brings out one of Eubanks’s most inspired turns on an album that’s jammed with great performances. I love the kind of encounter documented by Live at Maxwell’s—direct and unfussy, it reminds me why I fell for jazz in the first place.

Today’s playlist:

Emmanuelle Bertrand, Pascal Amoyel, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester & James Gaffigan, Henri Dutilleux/Claude Debussy: Tour un Monde Lointain (Harmonia Mundi)
Buddy Collette, Jazz Loves Paris (OJC/Specialty)
Prince Far I, Long Life (Virgin)
Thymolphthalein, Mad Among the Mad (Immediata)
Peter Brötzmann Trio, Usable Past (Olof Bright)