Simon Phillips (drums), Greg Howe (guitar), Ernest Tibbs (bass), and Dennis Hamm (keyboards)...not much needs to be said after seeing that lineup, right? Drum legend Phillips has assembled this stellar cast for this fourth installation of the Protocol series, and it's a highly engaging collection of instrumental jazz-fusion & progressive rock wizardry from all involved.
Things start off in mind-blowing fashion with the '70s fusion/prog inspired "Nimbus", a clear nod to classic UK and Bruford, with Simon's nimble drum patterns, Tibbs' acrobatic bass, Hamm's airy keyboards, and Howe's sizzling, Allan Holdsworth styled guitar lines just dazzling the listener with some sumptuous sounds. "Pentangle" has a slight funk edge but hits hard, like a cross between Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, with lethal work from Howe and plenty of pumping bass courtesy of Tibbs. Funky metal fusion? Somewhat, but it's highly memorable and jaw dropping at the same time, and Hamm adds a lengthy solo to top it all off, doing his best Chick Corea/Jan Hammer impression. World Music meets jazz on the dreamy "Passage to Agra", a track filled with some charming guitar solos from Howe, and the band bring out some serious funk on the groove laden "Solitaire", Phillips & Tibbs digging deep in the pocket on this uptempo burner and Howe & Hamm trading off furious solos. The near 8-minute "Celtic Run" offers up symphonic prog and heavy fusion, the synths commanding, the electric piano tasty, the grooves locked in, and the guitars riffy. Fans of Scott Henderson's Tribal Tech and the Chick Corea Electrik Band will love "All Things Considered", a quirky number with plenty of tasty playing from all four members, while the atmospheric, melodic epic "Phantom Voyage" delivers a wealth of gorgeous keyboard tapestries from Hamm and another mercurial solo from the always impressive Howe. The furious fusion barnburner "Azores" closes things out in fine fashion, Tibbs' bobbing bass lines driving a raucous ensemble performance that is a must hear for any fan of classic '70s jazz-fusion.
Let me just throw it out there- Protocol 4 is an astounding album, easily one of the best jazz-fusion albums I've heard this year, featuring four killer players who have not only knocked it out of the park with their musical brilliance but also delivered an album with memorable songs as well. Essential!!
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3. Passage to Agra
6. Celtic Run
7. All Things Considered
8. Phantom Voyage