As an American living in Bangkok, Dan Phillips is doing his level best to plant the seeds of jazz in Southeast Asia. On the faculty of the music department at Silpakorn University, Phillips is a mentor to many aspiring Thai jazz musicians, and he has protégés in his BKK Trio, too. Chanutr Techatana-nan (drums) and Pornchart Viriyapark (bass) have great rapport and can hang with most anybody in the West. For his part, Phillips is a force on guitar, having obviously worked hard at developing is own voice on the instrument while remaining firmly indebted to the rich tradition of the jazz guitar.
Phillips’ 4th and latest record-making foray downplays his composing prowess in favor of knocking out some standards he and his guys have been working out in the club of late. Furthermore, the Danish tenor sax player Jakob Dinesen was in town recently sitting in on the trio’s gigs, so Phillips wisely took advantage of the opportunity to cut a few sides with the temporary quartet in the studio. Bangkok Edge, a mixture of trio and quartet, standards and a couple of originals, is the result.
Since Phillips made this a record focused on covers, the interpretations are where the greatest areas of interest lie. With that in mind, I was taken aback immediately by that aspect with Phillips arrangement of the old Sam Rivers tune, “Beatrice.” Rivers’ gorgeous tone poem has such a soul stirring melody with a strong blues feel without actually being blues, and his original version with a quartet as well as Joe Henderson’s trio version established the song as a kind of modern day vehicle for tenor sax tenderness much as Coleman Hawkins’ “Body And Soul” has done many years earlier.
Phillips, however, lights a little fire under the tune. He does this primarily with a stilted rhythm pattern whereby the notes are in the right sequence but not played in all the expected spots. It’s an arrangement that doesn’t really disrupt the melody but in disrupting the flow of the cadence a bit, it’s an attention grabber. The solos, first by Viriyapark, then Phillips and finally Dinesen, are all dandy, but Phillips in particular stands out for his fluid, whimsical articulations that’s alternately fleet-fingered and thoughtful, but always fresh and not clichéd. Phillips, as is made clear on this song, is one of those “looks hard, sounds effortless” type of guitar players. Dinesen, who has a just-right tone for the song, pours it on, too, in a poised but passionate way.
Dan Phillips and his band give some inventive treatments to other familiar covers, making Bangkok Edge not your run-of-the-mill covers album. Phillips doesn’t have to get wildly outside to do that, just employ some crafty arrangements and super musicianship. Imagine that, really good straight jazz albums can still be made that way. It starts with “Beatrice.”
Bangkok Edge was released on December 18. Visit Dan Phillips’ website for more info.