Protocol is the Jazz Fusion band of drummer Simon Phillips. Most of you will know Simon Phillips as the ex drummer of the band Toto but for me Simon Phillips was always mister Protocol. Before that he had made several contributions to the albums of other musicians, also in the progressive rock scene. If I remember it well that were artists like Camel and Gordon Giltrap. When he released in 1988 his first solo EP under the name “Protocol” I was immediately impressed by his skills as a jazz fusion drummer and composer. I did see him perform live at the famous Dutch jazz festival North Sea Jazz. There were a lot of drummers at front row and one of them stated that he would stop drumming now because he would never reach that level of drumming that Simon was displaying. The man was playing three rhythms at the same time. Both his feet and his arms seems to be controlled by different parts of his brain. It was an overwhelming experience to see him performing. So when he joined the band Toto I was to be honest disappointed. Because the urge to make a living in music with a well-paid job won over the urge to make his own music. Of course it is understandable but I knew that his Protocol project would move to the background or even would completely disappear. However he managed to release two other fine albums. The live album “Force Majeure” (1992) and “Symbiosis” (1995). 25 years after his first solo recording, Simon released “Protocol II”. And after leaving Toto he seems to have the time now to concentrate more on his Protocol project. In the year 2014 “Protocol III” was recorded. At the moment he is on tour to promote his new “Protocol 4” album. Unexpectedly I found this fine jazz fusion album in my mailbox. The album is recorded in the Phantom Recordings studio and released on his own Phantom Recordings label. Simon Phillips himself was responsible for the engineering and mixing of the album.
Simon Phillips - drums and percussion; Greg Howe - guitars; Ernest Tibbs - bass; Dennis Hamm - keyboards
On this forth Protocol album of Simon Phillips you can find the following compositions; “Nimbus”, “Pentangle”, “Passage To Agra”, “Solitaire”, “Interlude”, “Celtic Run”, “All Things Considered”, “Phantom Voyage” and “Azorez”.
The great opener “Nimbus” sounds familiar and this is the Simon Phillips Protocol project I remember from the brilliant “Symbiosis” album. Excellent drumming and fine keyboard and guitar intermezzos. You can find some wonderful melodies in this fine track. “Pentangle” with the bass slapping of Ernest Tibbs is more uptempo and swinging. There is also room for fine solo’s of guitarist Greg Howe and keyboardist Dennis Hamm. In “Passage To Agra” the band slows down a little bit and the tasteful keyboard opening gives me some Weather Report flashbacks. Protocol meets Weather Report, very nice!
“Solitaire” however is again a typical Protocol composition with amazing drum work, a fretless bass and a somewhat freaky guitar solo. It is one of my personal favorites. After the short but tasteful “Interlude” which has nice orchestrations and a soaring guitar melody this song seamlessly flows into the track “Celtic Run” that has a more rock oriented rhythm. On top of that brooding rhythm section you find some wonderful solo parts of the other instruments. “All Things Considered” has some Rock and Blues influences but this is combined with jazzy synth and guitar solo’s. The slow “Phantom Voyage” with it’s beautiful guitar solo’s and tasteful keyboard support is also one of my personal favorites of this fine album. A beautiful composition with great guitar playing by Greg Howe. The album comes to an end with the track “Azorez”. And like the opener “Nimbus”, “Azorez” is a typical Protocol composition. Top notch jazz fusion with sometimes inimitable solo’s.
Well this album is not progressive rock but I am sure a lot of prog fans will appreciate this kind of fine jazz fusion of a bunch of very skilled musicians. In particular band leader and drum maestro Simon Phillips who is a permanent resident of the top league of drummers. This is how jazz fusion is made.
After I wrote this review, music lovers shared on the social media outlets the sad news that Simon Phillips has lost his home and studio ... the Thomas fires in California burned it all to the ground. So if you want to support Simon and his family in this difficult period, buy a copy of this album or check out the Simon Phillips Life Rebuilding Fund at the gofundme website.