|Simon Phillips; Jeff Babko - Vantage Point (1999)|
|Front Cover||Album Info|
|_Song description by Jeff Babko:
Vantage Point- Babko
This is a great way to kick off the record-- in the true tradition of the old Impulse!/Blue Note recordings of the 60's. The rhythm section vibe is reminiscent of the Coltrane quartet (I'm definitely doing a bad McCoy Tyner, haha...). The song is in the key of "E," which is uncommon for traditional jazz tunes, as horn players don't like it very much. ("E" is a popular rock key though, as you probably know...). The blowing (improvisation) section is the same form as Miles Davis' "So What," but in "E" minor instead of "D" minor. Anyway, check out Simon's authority behind the kit-- a great way to introduce the vibe of the record. Also, note the tricky rhythmic figure in the B section of the "head:" it's grouped in sets of 7's, phrased in triplets. A difficult line to execute for almost any horn player, but Walt and Brandon executed it perfectly on the first reading! Oh, a sidenote: the tune's called "Vantage Point" only because I wrote it sitting at a Starbuck's coffee on the corner of Ventura Blvd. and VANTAGE St. in Studio City, CA. No deep meaning!
New Blooded- Babko
This is the piece I'm proudest of on the record. I like where it goes harmonically, and Simon plays it beautifully on brushes. The tune starts as a waltz and morphs into a 4/4 swing thing during the blowing. Simon proves that he can SWING HIS ENGLISH BUNS off during the blowing section-- it's a really nice band groove with Dave and Simon. I think my favorite part though is the outro, in which Brandon explodes into a Dave Liebman/Steve Grossman fire that I totally dig. The end result is a success, I'd say.
Bewilderment- Phillips, Babko
Simon named this tune-- as it is truly bewildering! It started as a little jam Simon and I did at his house, piano and drums, which gave birth to the opening line. He came up with the rest of the "verse," I came up with the breaks that launch the solo (which was an idea taken from Miles' version of "Round Midnight"), and I wrote some blowing changes. I also thought it would be fun if Brandon and Walt traded back and forth during the blowing: a kind of battle, adding to the "bewilderment" and creating further excitement. All in all, a fun little romp, we hope.
Miles Away- Phillips
I think Simon told me that "Miles Away" was inspired by a chord that Chick Corea taught him during the "West Side Story" sessions that Toto did with Chick's band. That chord is the basis for the verse. Walt gets a nice harmon mute sound on this one. The chords on the tail end of the blowing section are really fun to blow over. Check out how Walt gets through those changes! I like the overall vibe on this tune: kind of understated but evoking a late-night cool.
Dreamscape- Phillips This song has a really nice vibe too-- nice changes and a really catchy, cool melody. Another song in 3/4, which is nice-- although I think there are two bars of 4 snuck into the verse. I like what the rhythm section gets into during the beginning of the sax solo-- I lifted my little comping pattern from Don Grolnick.
Double Take- Phillips, Babko
The record needed a simple groove tune and this is it. It's just a simple shuffle-- a modified blues. (Steely Dan always had to put a modified blues on every album, so perhaps this is our ode to Steely Dan...) I can't TELL you how much I love the solo Walt Fowler takes on this tune. Phenomenal stretching and bringing back in the harmony. His break going into the blowing is perfect-- I just love it. Solos like this prove why Walt is one of the most underrated trumpet players ever. (Check him out on Alan Holdsworth's new record.) The world needs to come around and notice Walt-- he's truly a special jazz stylist.
Spirits of Trane- Freddie Hubbard
OK-- Freddie Hubbard is one of my main inpirations in all of music. His "spirit" and authority on his instrument is absolutely uncanny-- the strong ego (much like a rock star ego!) he has actually gives him an assertiveness that I believe has never been matched. The way Freddie played through changes effortlessly and aggressively was unsurpassed. His "Spirits of Trane" comes from a long out-of-print album (I don't know why) called "Keep Your Soul Together" on CTI from the early 70's. I always dug this album, and was lucky enough to play in the band of the album's drummer, Ralph Penland, for a while in 1994. Freddie composed many songs similar to "Spirits," starting with a "fanfare" and then going into fast swing. I have to say that one of my life's highlights thus far was playing in the house band at Freddie's 60th birthday celebration in 1998 here in L.A. He is sadly unable to play the trumpet these days, but during one of our performances, I was surprised to have Freddie lean over me and start playing the piano. I have to say-- Freddie's a VERY good piano player-- he plays lots of the same lines he did on trumpet. What an honor that was.
This cut was the only "live" cut, recorded at Cafe Cordiale in Sherman Oaks, CA. Cordiale is special to Simon and myself, as we have each spent much time there. I have a regular stint there as part of a band called "Mowgli," (who Simon has "sat in" with), and Simon dines there quite often. Peter May, the owner, was kind enough to help us with two jazz gigs there, for which we brought in an acoustic piano and created a real New York jazz scene. (Lee Ritenour that night commented to Simon that he felt like he'd walked into New York City!) Anyway, we were blessed to have so many really cool guests when this track was recorded, including jazz great Louis Bellson, Gregg Bissonette, Rayford Griffin, Sonny Emory, Jeff Pevar, Ritenour, David Paich, and others. The energy of the band is undeniable on this track, and at a blistering pace, we all had to hang on! Dave Carpenter was solid as a rock, and Simon's true "jazz" type solo is quite a ride!
I hope you enjoyed "Vantage Point;" we had a blast making it. Again, thanks to Simon for granting me "co-leadership" of the record, a true honor. Thanks to y'all for buying it and digging it, too.
AMG Review (2 1/2):
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, flügelhorn), 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. — Alex Henderson