All-universe drummer Simon Phillips can navigate just about any rock-related genre with the greatest of ease, given his tenure with Toto, The Who; voluminous discography as a session artist and ongoing leadership with his jazz-rock ensemble, Protocol. On 4 guitar hero Greg Howe replaces Andy Timmons, and Dennis Hamm takes over keyboard duties for Steve Weingart, along with longstanding member, bassist Ernest Tibbs. Ultimately, Phillips strikes gold on the latest rendition, perhaps looming as the band's finest outing to date.
The drummer's polyrhythmic fury amid a pristine soundstage pushes, prods and accents the quartet's largely melodic choruses via a fluidly moving program enunciated by a horde of climactic opuses and dynamics. Indeed, the musicians offer a sensory treat as Howe and Hamm thoughtfully build their soloing activities into exhilarating statements, as the ensemble often renders punishing crescendos and tricky time signatures. Howe's crying and wailing extended notes, primed with legato and lightning fast flurries amid Tibbs' clean and articulate lines are among many positives. More importantly, the album is designed with memorable works that instill enduring qualities.
"Pentangle" is a piece that exemplifies the ensemble's diverse mode of execution and rhythmic excursions. Here, Phillips launches a massive shuffle groove leading to melodic unison choruses by Howe and Hamm. Moreover, the drummer's ricocheting toms work progresses into a split-second paradigm shift, comprised of knotty pulses offset by Hamm's blustery Moog solo and darting lines across his keyboards. With climactic buildups and Howe's scorching notes, the quartet delves into a jazzy motif followed by Phillips' tornadic solo, where gargantuan press rolls, rapid double bass drum patterns and swirling toms movements provide the knockout blow towards closeout. Throughout, Protocol zooms in for the kill with the added benefit of compositions that offer a polychromatic and multitiered sequence of energized musical events that propagate the winning formula.
Simon Phillips: drums; Ernest Tibbs: bass; Greg Howe: guitar; Dennis Hamm: keyboards.