Proceed with no rules: drummer’s drummer delivers vertiginous, if well-grounded, trip into limitless fantasy.
For all his versatility, it’s easy to feel Simon Phillips’ presence on a record, and his involvement in one is a mark of its quality, so there’s a standard the drummer’s own albums must be measured by. The veteran’s work includes a string of solo releases that started in 1988 with “Protocol” – an offering which took on a life as a separate project, featuring a quartet of kindred spirits, with the issue of three numbered follow-ups. And here’s the latest, as impressive as the rest of them yet as tuned to its artwork’s color scheme as its predecessor was.
Looming luminously in from the blue, the transparent veil of “Nimbus” – initially rippled by sparkling interplay – solidifies to see the piece’s melodic promise crystallized once cymbals’ rustle and ivories’ shimmer are stricken with a six-string anxiety, but the glimpse of paradise will be ripped with a hard riff to let even more glow in. Where lesser mortals find satisfaction in safe fusion, Phillips and his light brigade charge towards jazz rock and throw caution to the wind along the way, as Greg Howe’s guitar and the ensemble stalwart Ernest Tibbs’ bass engage in risky conversations, and Dennis Hamm’s organ push it all close to the edge – propelled, of course, by the leader’s fluid tempo changes. There might be some slightly superficial shredding in “Solitaire” – resulting in aural oxymoron – yet the fun-laden funk of “Pentangle” takes a serious turn after the bottom-end grooves become static and drums shatter the cut’s meandering undercurrent directing it to a straighter course, or a point of no return.
The tom-toms-caressed “Passage To Agra” is but a short stretch of this spectacular route, although the ever-involving synthesizer’s dance makes a deceptively simple trip a genuine journey into wonder. It can be pacified thanks to a piano-led orchestral wave of “Interlude” only to bristle again with thorns for “Celtic Run”: in the absence of folk here and the number’s energy, one should surmise it’s all about a certain football club. Still, whereas the very palpable textures of “Phantom Voyage” – a reference to Phillips’ last name and his record label – resolve into romantic vision, there’s no doubt as to the slant of “All Things Considered” whose background is playful boogie which the quartet members roll around.
The tuneful flurries behind “Azores” offer a new adventure, yet with the listener’s hopes held high the album is over. Next time, then. In the meantime, there’s an album to spin over and over.