Simon Phillips Protocol at Catalina Jazz Club

Jim Worsley By

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Simon Phillips Protocol
Catalina Jazz Club
Hollywood, CA
February 6, 2018

Early on, the very engaged crowd at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood knew we were in for a treat. Perhaps it was enough that drummer Simon Phillips and his quartet Protocol were ready to take the stage for an evening of high-energy fusion.

After an opening number, Phillips announced, "We will be playing Protocol 4 in it's entirety." The nine song Phillips penned recording is a gem in itself. To have it presented live illustrated his confidence in the material, and proved to be a stunning performance.

Just two months removed from a devastating house fire that destroyed his home north of Los Angeles, and all of his belongings, Philips was in remarkably good spirits. As horrific as the fire was, there is much to be thankful for. Both his fiancée and his dog got out alive and unharmed.

Protocol 4 is the latest (2017) release of Phillips' incarnation. The one carry over, in addition to Phillips, from previous Protocol recordings, is bassist Ernest Tibbs. Guitarist Greg Howe and keyboardist Dennis Hamm replaced Andy Timmons and Steve Weingart, respectively. Phillips, Tibbs, Howe, and keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz rounded out the touring band.

Protocol 4, of course, forges forward in the fusion genre. This time a chunk of funk is added and layered throughout, giving it a fresh and buoyant sound. Tibb's bottom end is even more sumptuous live than on the recording.

Howe's tone and surgent rock leanings and Ruiz's stylish jazz textures complimented each other brilliantly. No clash of instrumentations here. Instead, it was the best of both worlds. They richly melded together with a sound that is the definition of fusion.

Still, it was Phillips that broadened the live set to grand proportions. He chose to play his beautiful melodic phrases as part of a quartet, as they were intended, as opposed to the tedium of endless drum solos. This treatment embellished the compositions as complete and sometimes epic pieces of work. The arrangements left plenty of room for all four musicians to expand and yet stay within the tight groove of a finely polished quartet. His delicate high hat work, syncopated rhythms, and fervent attack bring together a skill set that is uniquely Phillips' signature sound.

An encore dipped into Protocol 3 with a searing version of "Catalyst." A tip of the high hat to an enriched and enlightened night of music is in order.

Set list: "Nimbus," "Pentangle," "Passage To Agra," "Solitaire," "Interlude," "Celtic Run," "All Things Considered," "Phantom Voyage," "Azorez," "Catalyst"

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