Ben Scholz
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For thiProtocol 2 Album Covers inaugural blog post, I wanted to touch on an experience I had this week and combine it with an overview of Simon Phillips’ new album “Protocol II”.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend Simon’s masterclass at Vic’s Drum Shop in Chicago on Monday April 7, and was able to briefly meet-and-greet as well as get a copy of his new album. 




First off, I highly recommend obtaining a physical copy of this album, or  at least high-quality .wav downloads of the songs.  Both the tracking and mixing were accomplished digitally, and the quality of the overall recording should lay to rest any arguments that an entirely “in the box” mix won’t capture certain sonic details.  Be forewarned, mp3s with a set of earbuds won’t give you an accurate picture of the true depth of this album’s sound.

The album’s first cut, “Wildfire” could have been a cut off of Red Alert, or really any of the Lifetime albums.  The precision in everyone’s playing is superb, and the track features a drum solo at the end over a vamp.  The single stroke-fours and deep, yet tight snare drum are an obvious nod to Tony’s signature sound.  

The second cut “Soothsayer” features a Rosanna/Bernard Purdie shuffle and an intricate head played by Andy Timmons.  The bluesy strat sound really shines on the solo, and we had an opportunity to hear Simon reference the groove at the end of the masterclass.  Ernest Tibbs lays down a great solo, and a breakdown follows before ending with the head-out.

“Gemini” combines a 6/8 groove with a slower fusion ½ time pattern between the guitar melody and chord structure.  Again, this interplay is only made possible by the precision involved in everyone’s playing.  The simple, repeating bass line by Ernest Tibbs also builds tension as the chord structure moves up in whole steps to the drum solo interlude and finale.

According to the liner notes, “Moments of Fortune” was the first tune tracked, however I would have assumed it to have been a breather during a long day of recording.  The groove is a fairly straight forward 4/4 fusion pattern with a guitar and keyboard solo.  During his masterclass, Simon demonstrated an interesting technique of detuning the snare batter head in order to get deeper sounds for slower patterns.  This technique isn’t entirely evident on this track, however the snare is slightly broader here, leading me to believe that different recording techniques may have been used on this tune.

The opening arpeggiated keyboard pattern and synth stabs in an alternating 7-6 pattern give way to an awesome half-time groove with guitar wah on “Upside in downside up”.  

Simon spoke about the different techniques he employs in order to establish a groove in odd time signatures.  One of these techniques involves playing an even pattern over the odd time signature so that the backbeat alternates between strong and weak pulses.  Simon puts this technique to use all over the entire track to some nicely settling results.  The guitar solos over a straight forward 6 pattern and transitions to a drum solo over the 7-6 keyboard groovebefore ending with the head-out.

“First orbit” begins with a Donald Fagen-esque Rhodes wash and transitions to a locked-in slow bass and drum groove.  With it’s lush keyboard and multiple pad overdubs, the piece is reminiscent of mid-80’s Herbie Hancock tunes such as Textures and Butterfly.

Steve Weingart opens up “Octopia” with another arpeggiated keyboard pattern, but this time it is accompanied by an octoban African groove.  The piece builds dynamically to a break, then ascends with a synth-bass groove before launching into a tom-heavy drum solo feature.  Different patterns alternate as Simon slowly builds the tune before fading out with a synth-pad.

The synth-pad fade out from Octopia transitions to a syncopated guitar riff on the final cut of the album, “Enigma”; a medium tempo 6/4 piece.  I feel the need to point out that Simon has a writing credit on every song on Protocol II, not an easy feat given the fact that this band was all put together during and directly after the January ‘13 NAMM show.  This band has a perfect blend of serious chops and intuitive musicality that puts it among the best jazz fusion groups around today. 

Article by Ben Scholz   Photo by Alex Kluft   Published 8/12/14 in All About Jazz

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