It’s not every day you find a Rush T-shirt in the audience at London’s most esteemed jazz venue, but the appeal of Simon Phillips’ Protocol clearly crosses demographics. First tonight is the guitar-led fusion of Preston/Glasgow/Lowe, showcasing their excellent debut album. Two Minutes Hate is all angular phrasing and twisted licks that highlight the band’s dexterity. Kevin Glasgow’s extended bass solo, Within You, feels slightly indulgent for a support slot, but they recover their momentum with The Priory, featuring brisk runs from drummer Laurie Lowe.
Song To The Citadel and C/>PU let guitarist David Preston shine with his tasteful phrasing and sharp riffs. They may not play a single major chord all night, but support slots like this should help this unorthodox trio find their audience.
Simon Phillips has been waiting to bring his Protocol band to Ronnie Scott’s ever since he first assembled guitarist Andy Timmons, keyboard player Steve Weingart and bassist Ernest Tibbs on Protocol II in 2013. Three years later, out to promote Protocol III, the band have matured into a ferocious live act. Phillips’ double kick breaks on the opening track Protocol, from the 1988 album that gave the group their name, rumble through the club like a freight train.
Imaginary Ways starts as subdued blues before exploding into heavy rock, and it quickly becomes clear that Timmons is an underrated guitarist. While Tibbs provides the pulse beneath the grooves and Weingart adds mood and colour, only Timmons gives Phillips a run for his money in sheer firepower. When the guitarist lets rip in Circle Seven and Outlaw, he displays the chops of a jazz-fusion master, with the feel to rival any rock guitar hero. Phillips, meanwhile, is a monster. His favourite trick is to improvise over the vamp, which he does to jaw-dropping effect in Catalyst and You Can’t But You Can.
They finish with an extra encore of Wildfire that exemplifies everything that makes this quartet so compelling. They drop down until it’s just Weingart playing the melody, then build the intensity higher and higher as Phillips unleashes a beast of a solo that grows in power until it’s a hurricane. Pray to the gods of prog we don’t have to wait another three years for this band to come back!