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Protocol 4

(2017 – Phantom Recordings – USA)

With the fourth Protocol release, Simon takes a world tour on nine compositions totaling just under an hour. He wrote and produced all of the pieces, many sounding like they could be a lost Allan Holdsworth release. Bringing us a four piece power house, band members are Ernest Tibbs (bass), Greg Howe (guitars), Dennis Hamm (keys), and of course the ever so talented Simon Phillips (drums/percussion). 

Simon has played drums on a list ten miles long from early 70’s to present. While I would be forever to try to inventory his performances, a few of my favorite choices are his work on Mike Oldfield, Gordon Giltrap, Camel, Trilok Gurtu w/ NDR Bigband, Mike Rutherford (‘Smallcreep’s Day’, which is my favorite Rutherford recording ever), and Judie Tzuke (‘Stay With Me Til Dawn’ aka ‘Welcome To The Cruise’). He is also famous for doing live tours with The Who, Toto, Jeff Beck and Toyah, and once again, a longer list than time and space allows in this review.

While Simon made a huge impact on the progressive rock world, he actually got started at age twelve with his father Sid Phillips in a jazz band. So the love and connection to jazz, which his solos are infected with, is deep rooted. This brings us to the ‘Protocol 4’ release. Similar to the previous three (his first Protocol album was released in 1988, and not set up at the time to be a series, since he put several other solos out with like ‘Force Majeure’ -1992 and ‘Symbiosis’ – 1995, etc), the hot jazz fusion is consistent, dynamic, precise, and at times furious. The guitar work is in a very Holdsworth/Akkerman mode. The keyboards remind me of variations between Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, and Dave Stewart. Bass moves each tune in the spirit of Anthony Jackson. On the second track (‘Pentangle’) things get funky and Simon gets to blow it out in spots. If there was just one thing to note about Phillips, he is one of the most tasteful, creative, relentless, and ever dynamic drummers on the planet. This is why he has always been in demand. The fact that he is now 60, but plays like he is still 21, amazes me.

Track three (‘Passage To Agra’) could very well have come from ‘Feels Good To Me’/’One of a Kind’ by Bill Bruford, with a Holdsworthian lead guitar, dead on dual lead keyboards, all layed on top of a tropical beat. The entire disc is filled with clinically executed, yet emotionally charged and extremely top notch fusion froth. If you love top shelf jazz fusion bands of the 70’s and 80’s, this carries the torch with diamonds, and takes it up a notch. A well balanced selection of brisk songs that include the occasional funky and the exotic sizzle.

Simon shows he still has more than enough octane left in his tank as both composer and explosive drummer. From every aspect, the band shakes off the dust of yesteryears. A all instrumental set of gems, even a beautiful cut (track 6) ‘Celtic Run’, that starts slow but kicks into high gear for a head bobbing Celtic jazz rock jewel. Throughout the album, there are lots of breaks from fast to low key, but nothing lingers. No apathy present, and the world journey themes don’t stop short of keeping the listener on their toes, jacked up, and loving it all the way to the end. This band can rip, roar, and float, all in great taste. RECOMMENDED.

Reviewed by Lee Henderson (writer, listener, music lover, musician) 12 – 6 – 2017

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