Simon Phillips, Protocol V Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Simon Phillips is back with another album in his Protocol jazz-fusion series called Protocol V. Phillips has created an outstanding roster with guitarist Alex Sill, saxophonist Jacob Scesney, keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, and long-time bassist Ernest Tibbs. Phillips is an entirely self-taught composer that debuted his Protocol project in 1989, followed by Protocol II (2013), Protocol III (2015), and Protocol IV (2017). Throughout, Phillips has grown his vision for instrumental music with pop sensibility and lyrical melodies over a complex rhythmic and elusive harmonic foundation. Of the original members (guitarist Andy Timmons, keyboardist Steve Weingart, bassist Ernest Tibbs), Tibbs remains in the fold; he joined keyboardist Dennis Hamm(Thundercat) and guitar virtuoso Greg Howe for Protocol IV. In addition, Tibbs recommended the group’s newest members: veteran keyboard magician Otmaro Ruiz and two prodigiously gifted young players, guitarist Alex Sill and saxophonist Jacob Scesney.
“Undeviginti” (Latin for 19, literally “20 less one”) captures the energy that Phillips is known for with its 19/16 time signature. “Whatever meter I’m in, I always try to make it grooveable and play it the simplest way possible,” says Phillips. “When we were learning this one, Otmaro asked me, ‘What is the clave?’ Once I clapped out the pseudo-clave for 19, he got it right away. And when you’ve got it, you don’t need to count anymore.” Phillips and Tibbs instantly create a groove for the introduction. The cyclic melody is a riffed-based catchy figure with Sill’s warm, distorted guitar responding to its call. The groove flows naturally as Sill takes the first solo. His jazz-fusion language is spot-on as his legato lines build his melodic explorations. Scesney’s saxophone follows, with equal energy and melodic colors. A fine example of Phillips’ natural ability to create flowing complex grooves that are highly musical and satisfying to hear.
“The Long Way Home” has a world music overtone with its shifting rhythms and scale colors. Phillips drums sound full, balanced, and sing with harmonic overtones. He is equally gifted as a studio engineer a performer, and composer. The melody allows the brilliant players to demonstrate their chops as they expertly navigate the song form. “With Ernest (Tibbs), it’s always grooving no matter how tricky the music is,” Phillips says. “That’s so important to me.” That chemistry is again the backbone upon which both Scesney and Sill build beautiful solos.
Protocol V is seven compositions that feature a new lineup of gifted musicians joining Phillips and Tibbs. Phillips compositions are perfect vehicles for the ensemble to explore, and the playing is interactive and deep with feeling and listening. Protocol V is a MUST HAVE for fusion lovers and beyond.