Compass 7 4230 2
review by Art Menius
Todd Phillips long ago established himself as the foremost bluegrass and acoustic bass player in northern California. Over his nearly 20 year career his credits have ranged from the neo-traditional superstars the Bluegrass Album Band to the exploratory David Grisman Quartet. His solo album, Timeframe, finds Phillips, like the late Charles Mingus, in the role of bass player leading a modern jazz group.
Phillips fits the role well. He understands his instrument’s fundamental part in the ensemble, providing the foundation and setting for his nine original compositions. Phillips writes that he “wanted to write, arrange, and record in a way that incorporated as much of what I love about music as possible.” Synthesizing a lifetime of intense musical experience into nine tunes proves a imposing goal. Only Phillips can judge how close he came, but he has created an engaging and most satisfying recording in Timeframe.
Phillips, who also plays several members of the mandolin family here, is aided and abetted by a group of musicians not only sensational in their skill, but able to blend together to serve the whole. You’ll find no duels of hollow hot licks on Timeframe. Veteran violinist and Grisman alumnus Darol Anger, best known for his work with Mike Marshall, has enjoyed a long association with Phillips. He plays only when needed, wasting not one note. Paul McCandless, handling sax, oboe, clarinet, and English horn, has gained deserved notoriety. I am most impressed by his work on Timeframe, where Phillips gives McCandless plenty of room. Joe Caploe delivers exquisite, melodic vibraphone playing.
Phillips’ opening bass tones on “Shuffled” recall the intro to Miles Davis’ “So What” from Kind of Blue, but quickly digresses into a original and engaging territory distinguished by McCandless’ subtle blowing and Caploe’s superb vibes. “Paths” contrasts with McCandless’ light horn work floating over the melody, while “Roun’ Trip Ticket” provides a stunning demonstration of his power, as well as the fine playing of guest flautist Anne Cleveland. Indeed, McCandless’ work shines among these superior players, reaching heights that match Phillips’ excellent compositions. Yet he never overshadows the over musicians. These people work as a team, and that establishes the excellence of their bass player.
Todd Phillips demonstrates that he ranks among the best jazz arrangers and composers today. He cites the influence of Bill Evans, which can be heard along with inflections of Miles and John Coltrane when he played with Davis. He also credits Bill Monroe, but the bluegrass contribution is much less direct. Phillips takes its melodic clarity and facility for giving each instrument sufficient tonal space to sound its best. Timeframe proves cool jazz, very cool, too much so for some. Those might find the songs too similar, the music too cerebral. For those invested in much of quiet inner exploration with exceptional musicianship, Timeframe will delight.