Simon Phillips – Protocol III (2015)

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Since Simon Phillips forfeited his drum stool after more than 23 years with the band Toto, he has been on a roll.

Albums and tours with Hiromi and bassist Anthony Jackson has been musically enriching. Phillips’ work as producer with various artists – including Billie Rainbird’s recently released Deep Blue – have demonstrated his skill behind the boards as a producer and engineer. But it’s Simon Phillips’ work with his band, Protocol, which best shows his talents as writer and bandleader.

Granted Simon Phillips is in a select group of rock/jazz-fusion drummers. Protocol III furthers his reputation behind his drum kit, and also as a thoughtful and inventive bandleader. Protocol III, like its predecessor, features Steve Weingart on keyboards, Andy Timmons on guitar and bassist Earnest Tibbs.

Fresh off touring together in Europe, Asia and America the quartet fire on all pistons like a classic Ferrari. The compositions don’t differ radically in style from Protocol II’s songs. Yet in this case, more of the same is very, very good.

The album kicks off in high fashion with “Narmada,” as the band quickly falls in to place behind Timmons’ soaring lead guitar and Phillips sprightly high-hat work. On this track, no one is left behind. Andy Timmons quickly changes his tone, while the band turns up the heat in this jazz fusion workout. The Phillips/Timmons song “Outlaws” dates back to 2000. However, for Protocol III, it’s reworked in a guitar propelled jazz-funk vehicle for the band.

“Catalyst,” which includes keyboardist Steve Weingart as a composer, expands on the previous theme, as Weingart’s heady keyboard hooks are interwoven with Simon Phillips’ passionate yet precise work. Bassist Earnest Tibbs gives no quarter, holding the beat together while Timmons takes off. “Catalyst” with its stunning two-minute drum coda, may well be my favorite track on Protocol III, but there are plenty high points.

“Amrita” another track based on Steve Weingart’s keyboard hook, keeps the boil on. Don’t let Simon Phillips’ elegant high hat and snare opening fool you. The song builds with passion. Andy Timmons’ guitar work is subdued but fitting and underscores the main theme. “Circle Seven” picks up the pace. The song, which started as a demo by Weingart, is developed for the band by Phillips into an eight-minute tour de force. “Undercover” is a perfect album closer, with its syncopated 1970s’ fusion feel and double time drumming.

Simon Phillips and his Protocol collaborators have nothing to prove, yet deliver another no-holds-barred jazz fusion album. What more could you want? Perhaps another American tour and live album/DVD.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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