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Dan Phillips Returns To Chicago

Mark Corroto By

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Somewhat of a mystery man, guitarist Dan Phillips recorded two CDs in Chicago in 2015 and 2016. One a trio session, and the other a septet with a cast of heavyweights from the Windy City. Phillips, a Berklee and Northwestern graduate, has been living and teaching in Bangkok, Thailand since the turn of the new millennium. Born in Illinois, he spent five years in New York, and returned to Chicago for another five before decamping to Bangkok. It's just as the old saying goes, you can take the musician out of Chicago, but you cannot take Chicago out of the musician. Both of the discs below display that muscular Chi-town sound and the experimentalism that is often missing from the regimented East and West Coast hierarchies.

Dan Phillips / Krysztof Pabian / Tim Mulvenna
Fading Light
Lizard Breath Records
2017

This reunion (of sorts) between guitarist Dan Phillips, bassist Krysztof Pabian and drummer Tim Mulvenna produces the imaginative Fading Light, the trio's fourth recording. Back in the day, when Phillips was a resident of Chicago, the three collaborated quite frequently. Pabian a classically trained bassist, also holds a masters degree in jazz. His influence on this guitar trio cannot be emphasized enough. Utilizing a bow on Phillips' composition "Ominous Thoughts," the bassist's solemn melody carries the elevated sensibilities of the music. He is also a precise timekeeper, as a bassist must be when the ensemble is a two string affair, plus a drummer. For his part, drummer Tim Mulvenna has been a mainstay of a the diversity that is Chicago music, playing with the funk/dub outfit The Eternals, clarinetist James Falzone's ensembles, and a former member of Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, Sound In Action Trio, Vandermark 5, and Joe Harriott Project.

What is quite evident here is the trio's comfort level with their role as couriers of this music. Each piece is obligingly delivered, to the various addresses. The title track opens the disc, providing an open source feel. Mulvenna multitasks a spiral of cymbal and snare beats with Pabian and Phillips soloing before the semi-rapturous ending. The trio moves with an impressive speed and agility. Their piece of post-bop, "Schwag" teases out a complex head swinger, as does "Was Going So Well," with guitar and bass playing in unison before Pabian turns to time keeping and Phillips to sewing a crazy quilt solo. "Icy Fields" melds pieces of Bill Frisell's folk and Pat Metheny's midwestern roots music into an almost visible topography. The final track, "Up There," delivers a hummable melody, and if there were such things as jazz jukeboxes, maybe a candidate for the hit parade. The music delivered here is a constant and consistent wonderment.

Chicago Edge Ensemble
Decaying Orbit
Self Produced
2017

Is there such a thing as the Chicago sound? Well if there is, it is certainly assertive, forceful, and commanding. Guitarist Dan Phillips harnesses that essence with the compositions he wrote for his Chicago Edge Ensemble. Decaying Orbit fits nicely into the adventurist music section, alongside Fast Citizens, Audio One, Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls, and Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble.

Phillips built a solid septet upon the bedrock, the pulse of everyone's favorite drummer Hamid Drake, plus the solid timekeeping of his musical compadre, bassist Krysztof Pabian. Upon that foundation he plugs in his guitar next to trombonist (and sometimes guitarist) Jeb Bishop and Chicago's musical scalawag/chameleon, saxophonist Mars Williams. The disc opens with "Attitude Adjustment," a barnburner that assembles, then dismantles itself into a cauldron of improvisation before coming back together. Sandwiched betwixt is the jocularity of Bishop's trombone sermon and the interplay of guitar and saxophone.

What may define Chicago jazz is the complexity of the postmodern sound with a predisposition for rump shaking. The septet rarely lowers the flame from boiling. Take the scratchy mayhem of "Not Here You Don't" where hammered beats and upper register yowls elicit Phillips' guitar to slice a channel of blues rifts before tearing off almost civilized notes. Pieces like the title track and "Uptown Swagger" showcase the guitarist's gift for enunciation. If he were a wine, the tasting notes would suggest the flavors of Bobby Broom, Jeff Parker, and John Scofield or perhaps Phillips is just a new varietal altogether. One that as a composer and player, is pleasing to the palate.

Tracks and Personnel

Fading Light

Tracks: Fading Light; Schwag; Unbound; Ominous Thoughts; Was Goind So Well; Ice Fields; Saga; Up There.

Personnel: Dan Phillips: guitar; Krysztof Pabian: double bass; Tim Mulvenna: drums.

Decaying Orbit

Tracks: Attitude Adjustment; Bluster Buster; Decaying Orbit; Splatter Pattern; Bipolar Vortex; Uptown Swagger; Not Here You Don't.

Personnel: Dan Phillips: guitar; Mars Williams: saxophones; Hamid Drake: drums; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Krysztof Pabian: double bass.

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