Simon Phillips

Protocol V

Simon Phillips showcases the talents of guitarist Alex Sills and saxophonist Jacob Scesney on Protocol V, the fifth release under the veteran drummer’s Protocol brand. Together with bassist Ernest Tibbs and keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, they provide the textural variety and musical virtuosity that give this album heft and drive. Intellectually satisfying, Protocol V would also sound great on a car radio.

This recording abounds in influences and tropes: “When The Cat’s Away,” featuring gnarly, lyrical Scesney and Ruiz’s rich Fender Rhodes, evokes the Jeff Beck Group. The anthemic “The Long Road Home,” the album’s longest track, chimes like early Pat Metheny, and “Dark Star” is a power ballad in search of a choir.

Technique and complexity rule on this unexpectedly melodic album, contrasting softer cuts like “Nyanga” and “Dark Star” with the hard fusion of “Jagganath” and the metrically daunting “Undeviginti,” a track that finds Ruiz in full Stevie Wonder mode.

The album concludes with “The Long Voyage Home,” a mini-suite. Phillips seems freer here; his drumming is hypnotic no matter who’s soloing, and the solos are especially dazzling.