Posts Tagged ‘ Simon Phillips ’

Album of the Week 44-2016: Toto – Falling In Between

Forget all the massive hits Toto had in the eighties, regardless of how good some of them were. Forget all the secret hits they had backing other artists. Now put on ‘Falling In Between’. It’s good, isn’t it? I’m sure that selling millions of records considerably softened the blow, but Toto was never taken as seriously as they should have been. Every musician in the band is top class and the band is obviously skilled at crafting good songs with melodies that keep lingering in the back of your mind. ‘Falling In Between’ adds a somewhat more adventurous approach to that and ends up sounding spectacular.

Despite touring behind this record with guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Bobby Kimball as the only original members, chief songwriter David Paich can still be heard on keyboards here and longtime bassist Mike Porcaro makes his last appearance before falling victim to ALS, which sadly eventually cost him his life. Drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips had been in the band since Jeff Porcaro’s death in 1992 and Steve Porcaro may not be mentioned in the lineup, but has contributed synths and sound design to practically every song, making experienced keyboard player Greg Phillinganes the only “new kid”. And there seems to be some magic in the interplay here.

Of course such a lineup isn’t a guarantee for a good Toto album, but it helps that everyone involved has experience with the sound that makes Toto so good. And it’s all there: the songs are melodic and recognizable, a lot of styles are touched upon without sounding incoherent and there are some displays of virtuosity without sacrificing the catchy nature of the compositions. The relaxed ‘Dying On My Feet’, the exuberant ‘King Of The World’, the uptempo ‘Taint Your World’, the slightly kitschy ballad ‘Spiritual Man’ and the somewhat funky ‘Let It Go’ all sound different, but are unmistakably Toto.

Most interesting are the moments when the band experiments with world music. The suprisingly heavy, proggy title track has a chorus with a vaguely Middle-Eastern flair, while the downright spine chilling ballad ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’ – which features former singer Joseph Williams in its chorus – has a strong African vibe due to its choir arrangements and Lenny Castro’s percussion. Closing slow burner ‘No End In Sight’ ties together all the styles and becomes a strong progressive rock song in the process. ‘Simple Life’ is a short, but moving ballad sung by Lukather.

While latter day Toto didn’t have the huge hits they had in the eighties, their releases have been consistently strong. ‘Mindfields’ was a little overlong, but had a few really strong songs and ‘XIV’ is a pleasant record to listen to. ‘Falling In Between’ is just a tad better than those two and stands as one of Toto’s best records yet. Personally, I enjoy it as much as my early favorite ‘Hydra’. And just like that one, it’s at times progressive and unpredictable, but always melodically strong. And with all the genres they touch upon, it’s never boring. Highly recommended to just about anyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’, ‘Falling In Between’, ‘No End In Sight’


Album of the Week 27-2016: Hiromi – Spark

So much girl power at the North Sea Jazz festival this year! Esperanza Spalding especially blew me away with her music meets performance art presentation of her excellent ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ album, but Hiromi wasn’t far behind. It wasn’t just her crazily accurate and sometimes warp-speed piano playing; her whole trio was on fire. Of course, she has enlisted the help of two cross-genre giants in the shape of drummer Simon Phillips and bassist – excuse me, contrabass guitarist – Anthony Jackson, but music history has proven time and time again that putting great musicians together doesn’t necessarily result in a great record. In the case of ‘Spark’, it does though.

Japanese Jazz – or Japanese music in general really – has a tendency to be excessively polished. And while I like my music a little on the clean side, the soul sometimes gets washed out in the process. Whether it’s the fact that she lives in America these days, I don’t know, but Hiromi’s found the balance between polish and structure on one side and wild abandon on the other. The former is quite clear in the very strongly composed melodic themes on this album, the latter in the improvisations by all three musicians involved.

Melodically, ‘Spark’ has a very dreamy, almost fairytale-like atmosphere. As band leader, Hiromi seems to make sure that the virtuosity of the entire trio doesn’t get in the way of those main melodies. Of course, Phillips’ powerhouse drumming and remarkable control over the strength of his hits plays a pivotal role in the album’s rhythmic strength – though I think his carefully crafted sound is the main merit of his presence here – but it never gets too busy. Jackson especially has no problem taking backseat to the composition, but then again: he’s a master of the groove, so why not use him as such?

In a way, the opening title track sums up the album quite well. After a slow fade-in, there’s an upbeat melody carrying the song before moving into more visceral improvisations that never go out of line. The rest of the record moves back and forth between relaxed (the almost Bluesy ‘Indulgence’, the seventies Herbie Hancock-esque ‘What Will Be, Will Be’) and propulsive (the choppy ‘Wonderland’, closing track ‘All’s Well’), sometimes even within the same song (the dramatic ‘Dilemma’). ‘Wake Up And Dream’ feels like a classical piano piece, while ‘Take Me Away’ is a special track; Jackson uses his instrument in an almost guitar-like fashion, after which the song moves through multiple hypnotizing climaxes.

Through several years of experience as a music journalist, I’ve grown a little suspicious of artists that are hyped. In case of Hiromi, it is fully justified. She can obviously play her heart out, but what made the attention last for the decade and a half that she’s been profesionally active now is that she’s able to channel that virtuosity into tunes that are crafted so well that you can call them songs. And that isn’t necessarily the case for Jazz artists. Also, she’s found the perfect people to accompany her in Jackson and Phillips. ‘Spark’ is easily Hiromi’s crowning achievement thus far and leaves a promising path open for the future.

Recommended tracks: ‘Spark’, ‘Dilemma’, ‘Take Me Away’