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Damani Phillips: No More Apologies

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Damani Phillips: No More Apologies
One of the often encountered effects of the pandemic has been to reduce artistic motivations to their most fundamental core. The hunger to make art simply for its own sake, without the encumbrances of marketplace considerations or stylistic categories, has emerged more fully than ever before. We have seen this in the jazz world, with plenty of musicians experimenting with radically innovative approaches to composing, recording and distributing their music. There is often a noticeable defiance accompanying this creativity and resilience—a refusal to let arduous circumstances interfere with the process of crafting uncompromising music, to be accepted on its own terms or not at all.

Enter Damani Phillips, whose latest release clearly embodies that defiant spirit—it's there in the title, after all—and which serves as a template for how the jazz community can forge ahead in challenging times. There's nothing stereotypical about this album. Indeed, Phillips, who directs the jazz program at the University of Iowa, is less interested here in creating a "jazz" record than in offering a multifaceted musical statement drawing on Latin, R&B and soul for inspiration (although the spirit of jazz runs through it all). And although the record's stylistic breadth does at times make for a less than fully cohesive listening experience, Phillips also employs a string section quite effectively, and this crucial ingredient does a lot to give the album its distinctive flavor.

Phillips is no stranger to "jazz + strings" projects, having released a previous one in 2011. But unlike that earlier effort he's got a larger string ensemble here—an octet, rather than a quartet—and the result is a lusher, more expansive sound. This is noticeable from the outset on Cole Porter's "So in Love," a vivacious showcase for Phillip's nimble alto, with the strings providing a robust and rhythmically adroit counterpoint. They also skillfully complement the more R&B-oriented tracks, like Phillips' own "Sunset's Last Embrace" and "Hymn (for Trayvon)," where the terrific arrangements allow those pieces to maintain momentum and interest throughout.

Phillips' band should also get a mention, with drummer Cassius M. Goens III, bassist Brandon Meeks and keyboardist William Menefield deftly shaping the contours of each track, from the soulful take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado" to the beautiful rendition of John Coltrane's "Dear Lord" offered as the "bonus" seventh cut on the album. Phillips' gently keening interpretation of Coltrane's stirring melody, alongside the sensitive accompaniment of this band—with the strings in close rapport—ends the album with a flourish. Kudos to Phillips for doggedly pursuing his craft, and for making a record that, indeed, requires no apologies whatsoever.

Track Listing

So in Love (A Nod to Cannon); Sunset’s Last Embrace (remix); Corcovado (MJ version); Hymn (for Trayvon); Midnight Sun (remix); But Beautiful; bonus track: Dear Lord.

Personnel

Damani Phillips: saxophone; William Menefield: piano; Brandon Meeks: bass; Cassius M. Goens III: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Sylvia de la Cerna: violin; Lucinda Ali Landing: violin; Edith Yokley: violin; Zara Zaharieva: violin; Chuck Bontrager: viola; Adjedmaa Ali: viola; Tahirah Whittington: cello; Najette Abouelhadi: cello.

Album information

Title: No More Apologies | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Openmind Records


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