When not stoking the rhythmic boiler for Hiromi’s high-octane jazz trio, drummer Simon Phillips’ solo outfit Protocol has quietly built up a reputation for energetic jazz-rock with an emphasis on the rock part of that equation.
Here Phillips is once again reunited with Andy Timmons (guitar) Ernest Tibbs (bass) and Steve Weingart (keys), and the quartet display their formidable chops without any of the bombast or empty bluster blighting some quarters of the genre. This is no accident, rather a measure of the detailed compositions and judiciously dynamic arrangements therein. Timmons’ raucous, lapel-grabbing tone provides the lead voice while allowing room enough for Phillips’ highly articulated playing to apply intensity and spirit. He has a habit of slipping an infectious, winning backbeat under the other players’ soloing, and this often kicks everything into that fifth gear. Though current, there’s an undeniably 70s feel in some parts of the album. The down-tempo ballads flirt with an smoochy LA-filtered funk, while Narmada and Undercover sizzle with an upbeat, barreling energy suggestive of early Weather Report’s joyous, circuitous themes. It’s pulse-racing stuff.