Jeff Babko / Simon Phillips

Vantage Point

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Some bop snobs would have us believe that a pop/rock musician cannot possibly play straight-ahead jazz -- they honestly believe that embracing commercial pop/rock renders a person incapable of handling bop's complexity. But anyone who says that is perpetuating a silly and elitist myth. If a pop/rock musician has chops and seriously understands jazz, there is no reason why he/she cannot explore it. Best known for his work in the pop/rock world, British drummer Simon Phillips successfully embraces acoustic post-bop and hard bop on Vantage Point -- a 1999 session that finds him co-leading a quintet with pianist Jeff Babko and playing alongside Los Angeles residents Walt Fowler (trumpet, fl├╝gelhorn), Brandon Fields (tenor and soprano sax), and Dave Carpenter (acoustic bass). Vantage Point doesn't sound anything like Phillips' work with Toto, the ultra-commercial pop/rock unit that he joined in the 1990s (when he replaced the late Jeff Porcaro). This CD is straight-ahead jazz all the way, and the post-bop and hard material (most of it written by Phillips and/or Babko themselves) tends to have a strong early-'60s Blue Note flavor. "New Blooded," "Doubletake," and the title song are tunes that would not have been out of place on an Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, or Freddie Hubbard album from that period. Vantage Point isn't terribly original, and it won't win any prizes for innovation. But it's a decent release, if a conventional and highly derivative one.

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