The music business is in a weird place right now. While platforms like Spotify and, YouTube and Deezer dominate the sonic landscape and make it increasingly difficult for artists to make a living, the coronavirus ruined the last bit of hope they had to have anything marginally profitable this year. However, every black cloud has a silver lining, and artists now have a little bit more time on their hands to finish certain projects that would otherwise have taken a back seat. That is the case with Derek Sherinian’s new solo album, “The Phoenix”, which is scheduled for release on September 18, but probably would not be available so soon if he was on tour with Sons Of Apollo.
Releasing an album of instrumental music in 2020 is in and of itself an act of faith, but also of tremendous trust in one’s potential, something that Derek has clearly demonstrated throughout his career. Once again at the helm is his longtime partner in crime, drummer extraordinaire and revered producer Simon Phillips. Together, they honed the initial ideas that Derek brought and made them into full songs, with the help of an all-star cast of guitar players: Bumblefoot, Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Kiko Loureiro and Joe Bonamassa leave their mark throughout the eight tracks of this release. The bass guitar guest list is no slouch either: Billy Sheehan, Tony Franklin and Ernest Tibbs are the perfect companion for Simon’s boundary-pushing drum parts.
“The Phoenix” kicks out with the title track, with the Nord Lead throwing down the gauntlet and uttering an Eddie Van Halen-like roar. It’s been nine years since his last solo album “Oceana” was released, and there’s no time to waste. Billy, Simon, Derek and Zakk jump into a lick trading exercise that mixes jazz and rock, sounding almost like a fusion version of “Shy Boy”.
Coming up next is “Empyrean Sky”, which has already been revealed, and shows another fusion influence, with Bumblefoot and Derek taking the partnership they honed up on Sons of Apollo to new territory. This one is followed by “Clouds of Ganymede”, which sees the first studio collaboration of Derek and Steve Vai. They played together at the Generation Axe tour, and here they create a track which is the perfect amalgamation of both players’ styles. The feeling of genuine collaboration, as opposed to “let’s plug in a solo from a special guest”, is undeniable. Through its six minutes, the song goes through crescendos and light moods, with tasty exchanges of keyboard and guitar solos from beginning to end.
Perhaps the most different song on the album is “Dragonfly”, the first ever song where Derek plays exclusively acoustic piano. Perhaps in an effort to impress Simon, he created a unique melody, which wouldn’t be out of place in a Protocol album. Having Ernest Tibbs on bass on this track was a nice touch, and one can’t help but wonder if there’s more material like that up on Derek’s sleeve. It’s a nice change of pace from his usual lothario-esque delivery on electric keyboards, and a side of his musical journey that deserves more exploration on the future.
“Temple of Helios” follows a similar path that has been thread by the keyboardist in his other solo work, both sonically and in the use of mythological figures to name the songs. And another curveball is thrown at the listener with “Them Changes”, with a nod to his past on multiple levels: this is a cover of Buddy Miles, the first artist he toured with, and has Joe Bonamassa, his bandmate in Black Country Communion, on guitars and vocals. Much like he did when he included “In the Summertime” on “Blood of the Snake”, this is a great change of pace, and a great rendition of a song which never got the praise it deserved.
“Octopus Pedigree” brings echoes of Derek’s band with Virgil Donati, Tony Franklin and Tony Macalpine, the now distant Planet X. Actually, the term “octopus pedigree,” half-jokingly coined by his friend Eric Singer, was widely used by Derek when the Sons of Apollo were put together in 2017 – parts of this song wouldn’t be out of place in one of their efforts either. Guitar and bass sometimes riff together, and other times feed off each other, in this syncopated number with many time signature changes.
“The Phoenix” ends with a new addition to Derek’s pantheon of six string wizard collaborations: Kiko Loureiro brings in his flamenco and Brazilian music influence to “Pesadelo”, mixed up with the heaviness and funkiness of the keyboard. Consistent with its title (nightmare in Portuguese), this song has an unsettling feeling, but also an irresistible Latin vibe and some headbanging moments as well.
True to their vision, Derek and Simon achieved what is seemingly impossible for an album with so many guests: a unified sound and a clear direction. Perhaps inadvertently, they created THE guitar album of 2020, even though keyboards and drums are the main driving force throughout the compositions. Any touring plan nowadays is a distant utopia, but I wonder if this is the album which would warrant a run of shows where Derek finally unveils the vast material he has previously put out as a solo artist on a live setting. One can dream…
Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: September 18th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock / Fusion
- Derek Sherinian / Keyboards
- Simon Phillips / Drums
- Ernest Tibbs / Bass
- Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal / Guitars
- Joe Bonamassa / Guitars
- Zakk Wylde / Guitars
- Kiko Loureiro / Guitars
- Steve Vai / Guitars
- Tony Franklin / Bass
- Jimmy Johnson / Bass
- Billy Sheehan / Bass
“The Phoenix” Track-listing:
- The Phoenix
- Empyrean Sky
- Clouds Of Ganymede
- Temple Of Helios
- Them Changes
- Octopus Pedigree
Derek Sherinian and Simon Phillips relive their partnership on an album which shoots on all directions whilst remaining consistent and true to Derek’s style of composing and playing. Unashamedly organic and original, ‘The Phoenix” is a worthy addition to his catalogue, which will solidify his place in the highest echelons of keyboard players