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Simon Phillips: Protocol II

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British drummer Simon Phillips is on a recent roll, no pun intended. His work on Japanese keyboardist Hiromi’s 2014 release, Alive, helped make it the best of the three efforts by their Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson. And the drummer’s latest project, Protocol II, a bookend to his 1988 solo debut, Protocol, is the best of his releases as a bandleader.

It’s a pleasant surprise, considering that Phillips put together the recording sessions spur-of-the-moment over only a few days with guitarist Andy Timmons, keyboardist Steve Weingart and bassist Ernest Tibbs (a musician he’d never worked with before). But the spontaneity paid off. Phillips’ opening composition, “Wildfire,” with Timmons’ distorted chords and a banner Weingart solo amid the rhythm section’s inside-out pattern, sounds like a nod to late drummer Tony Williams’ New Lifetime band from the mid-’70s. The slower “Soothsayer” was composed by the quartet, indicating creative spontaneity, yet with no less attitude. Timmons, guitarist for pop/metal band Danger Danger, displays both his jazz and rock arsenals with an effortless versatility approaching Phillips’.

Some of Weingart’s best work was with another preeminent fusion drummer, Dave Weckl, in the early 2000s. The keyboardist contributes another fiery solo to Phillips’ “Gemini,” on which the drummer plays a shell game within its 6/8 time signature. Tibbs, with his experience playing with R&B as well as fusion artists, provides a soulful undercurrent, particularly on more spatial pieces like “Moments of Fortune.” Other highlights-the metric “Upside in Downside Up,” tranquil “First Orbit” and clattering “Octopia”-bear comparison to the drummer’s disparate career high-water marks, including the molten fusion of Jeff Beck’s There and Back (1980), Pete Townshend’s pop gem White City (1985) and Phillips’ jazz playing on the 1994 Burning for Buddy tribute to Buddy Rich.

Originally Published