During a lifetime collecting music by all manner of progressive and classic rock bands, I’ve occasionally delved into the jazz-rock and jazz-fusion genres. Looking back to the 70’s and 80’s, there was just so much music to discover, these forays into jazz tended to be short lived but always added fulfilling instrumental ear candy to my collection. The attraction back then was usually when one of my favorite drummers joined a project of this kind. The first I can remember was Phil Collin’s work with Brand X and their unbelievable debut Unorthodox Behavior followed by Bill Bruford’s exciting first two solo albums. Many of my friends owned the Return to Forever album Romantic Warrior featuring the amazing Lenny White on drums. I also had Jeff Beck’s 1980 masterpiece There and Back (check out opening track Starcycle), and Mike Rutherford’s underappreciated Smallcreep’s Day (favorite cut Romani) from that same year, not realizing these included the incredible musician Simon Phillips on drums.
Instead, Simon Phillips name first came to my attention for his work on 801’s Listen Now and 801 Live (w/Phil Manzenera and Brian Eno) both recorded in 1976 but first heard by these ears until several years later. His technically brilliant, often polyrhythmic playing distinguished him immediately – it’s emotive, infectious, and smooth despite its complexity. Simon has plied this trade with scores of musicians and bands since the 1970’s, including a twenty-year stint with Toto.
Recently I’ve been fortunate to see Simon with PSP (Phillips Saisse Palladino) and last week with his “Protocol” band. The Protocol II album in 2013 established this new four-piece instrumental group with chemistry to spare, including Andy Timmons (guitar), Steve Weingart (keys), and Ernest Tibbs (bass) joining Simon. Last week, they staged a concert as Protocol II at Yoshi’s Oakland Feb 17, 2015.
It was a wonderful evening as these crack musicians highlighted some of the new work from the upcoming Protocol III album, along with prior tracks, and encore “Gemini” from Protocol II. The music would be considered as fantastic by anyone interested in smooth yet complex instrumental jazz-fusion, characterized by energetic playing, quick changes in meter and key, and abundant solos. With some jazz bands, lengthy solos and pyrotechnic displays can leave me bored and bewildered. Not so with this outfit as none of these elements are overcooked – instead the melodies are set upon solid compositions – with jams fitting tightly into the framework of every piece. Each of the four members are entertaining to witness live – Adam’s smoking guitar leads and sense of humor shine – Steve’s keyboard flights are fluid and organic – and Ernest while not coming up front for leads, consistently fills out the low end of the spectrum with fantastic fretwork. Simon is in a league of his own, sounding perfectly at ease with this band, he amazed us with his intense, precise and yet loose playing, coming to the fore a couple of times for short solos that demonstrated his immense skills. Catch this how if you can – it comes highly recommended!