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Dan Phillips He's Back And He's Proud

Mark Corroto By

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In just a few short years listeners have changed their thinking about Dan Phillips from "who is dis guy?" to "fantastic news, another Dan Phillips release." Maybe we can attribute this response to the wandering nature of the guitarist. He has lived in Chicago, New York, Bangkok, and Tokyo. Now, back in Chicago his music has jelled, crystallizing in several high profile ensembles including the Chicago Edge Ensemble with Hamid Drake, Jeb Bishop, Krzysztof Pabian, and Mars Williams and with his quartet and trio which we will look at below.

As an improvising artist we can hear parallels to players like a loud Jeff Parker or a quiet John Scofield. He has a sly and often subtle approach to his instrument, let's call it an old jazz soul's confidence.

Dan Phillips Trio
Sound Energy In Space
Lizard Breath Records
2019

The follow up to Divergent Flow (Lizard Breath, 2018), Phillips' trio retains the same highly interactive and responsive lineup of bassist Krzysztof Pabian and drummer Tim Daisy. Pabian has been Phillips' time keeper for twenty-plus years and can be heard in the Chicago Edge Ensemble, various trios, and quartets. The bassist, trained in both classical and jazz, functions as the rock-solid infrastructure for these travels in the spaceways. The duo between Phillips and Pabian heard on "String Reduction" showcases their musical repartee. The bassist sticks to the macro while the guitarist signals micro bursts, then they rotate, maintaining a conversation that has been ongoing for years. Add Daisy to the mix on "Emphatic Resonance" and the quicksilver nature of the trio amps up. The trio maintains a track sprint, carefully maintaining their individual lanes while accelerating the sound. Phillips pens taut compositions such as "Sonic Thruster" and "Kinetic Vibrations," where he can negotiate intricate twists and zigzags. He's a surgical technician when he wants to be, paring his notes down to their molecular formulas "A Once Forested Hill" and "Void Illusion" or he opens up possibilities with some indulgent abandon "Uranus Pass." The latter piece and "Jupiter Pass" include some sounds recorded by NASA's Voyager space probe, which work well against the trios own space ghost.

Dan Phillips Quartet
Light At Depth
Lizard Breath Records
2019

Light At Depth comes to us from Dan Phillips quartet, his new quartet. Maybe better described as his other quartet. Besides Phillips on guitar and longtime timekeeper Krzysztof Pabian on bass, Bill Harris replaces Tim Daisy on drums and keyboard wizard Jim Baker swaps out for Jeb Bishop who was heard on Converging Tributaries (Lizard Breath, 2017).

Not to worry here. The same patient and exceedingly open improvisation can be found on these seven tracks. With Baker, Phillips has found a sort of doppelgänger, or at least a kindred soul. His piano and especially synthesizer sound matches up to Phillips' peripatetic guitar work, allowing you to imagine what Sun Ra might have sounded like if he embraced (à la) Miles Davis) that plugged-in guitar sound. Let's stick with that thought for a moment. The lengthy piece "Whirl," a totally improvised composition, sets itself as an interstellar voyage. Scrappy guitar meshes with astro-minded keyboards, pushing outward against the rumblings of Pabian's bass and the swarming busy work of Harris' drums. There is an orderliness to the advertised disorder. "Capsizing" builds upon a very simple opening bass and drum pattern, which maintains a scaffolding for the music. This improvised piece finds Baker at the piano trading what could be calculus solutions with Phillips until the music changes gears and as fuel is depleted a quiet resolution is maintained. Elsewhere there is a kind of bacchanalian blues "Progressive Waves" and a lumbering piece of loud jazz/rock "Convoluted Confluence." To mash up a Dave Eggers title, this is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius.

Tracks and Personnel

Sound Energy In Space

Tracks: Sonic Thruster; Void Illusion; Jupiter Pass; Kinetic Vibrations; Word Fatigue; Uranus Pass; A Once Forested Hill; String Reduction; Emphatic Resonance; Neptune Pass.

Personnel: Dan Phillips: guitar; Krzysztof Pabian: double bass; Timothy Daisy: drums.

Light At Depth

Tracks: Light At Depth; Whirl; Convoluted Confluence; Submersion; Progressive Waves; Capsizing; Abyssal Plain.

Personnel: Dan Phillips: guitar; Jim Baker: piano, synthesizer; Krzysztof Pabian: double bass; Bill Harris: drums.
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