The Phoenix is the latest solo album from highly rated prog keyboard man, Derek Sherinian, again co-written with drummer Simon Phillips. It’s the follow-up to 2011’s ‘Oceana’ though of course in the interim, he’s been fully occupied playing in a variety of different projects and bands. Currently he’s a ‘Son of Apollo’ and playing on the albums of various of his musical friends. It would not be incorrect to say he’s one of the most significant and highly regarded keyboard players in the prog milieu, having made his mark through the quality of his playing, which has earned him kudos from musicians from prog and beyond; as well as a place in Prog magazine’s top 10 all-time great keyboard players.
Upon listening to ‘The Phoenix’ for the first time, I was amazed at just how ‘heavy’ it was, with a whole range of guitar hero posturing. Sherinian is clearly a lover of the electric guitar as five different guitarists made a contribution, including virtuoso’s Steve Vai and Joe Bonamassa – part of the fun listening to this album is attempting to guess which of the five guitarists played which solo. But this isn’t purely a guitar metal album. There’s also a joyous sense of diversity on the album, with eight pieces of music that incorporate rock, fusion, jazz and prog, with all eleven participating musicians fully on board with the project.
The album literally explodes into life with the blisteringly fast and furious title track ‘The Phoenix,’ with the intro paying homage to Van Halen’s ‘Eruption,’ and with some intense prog guitar and keyboard work throughout. By contrast, the single ‘Empyrean Sky,’ is a slower number played in a fusion, funk style with some nifty keyboard touches, and ends with a blaze of guitar. The tracks ‘Clouds of Ganymede’ and ‘Octopus Pedigree’ are similar to the opening track albeit slightly slower, though ‘clouds’ is more fusion infused. The diversity on the album is highlighted by ‘Dragonfly,’ with its dramatic piano flourish to open the track, and with some masterful keyboards and drum interplay between Sherinian and drummer and co-writer Simon Phillips. ‘Temple of Helios’ nods towards the ‘Birds of Fire’-era Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then comes a complete mood changes with the inclusion of Buddy Miles’ upbeat jazzy tune, ‘Them Changes,’ the only track with vocals and sung by Joe Bonamassa. This is Sherinian saying thanks to Buddy as he got his first professional break playing with Buddy Miles, though it’s a fair bet none of Miles’ albums contain the kind of guitar histrionics Bonamassa provides here. The album closes with ‘Pesadelo’ ( Portuguese for ‘nightmare’) which is an outstanding seven minute blast of prog-metal and, similar to ‘The Phoenix,’ it’s a masterclass in performing complex prog riffing from some very talented musicians.
‘The Phoenix’ is an album which’ll have a definite appeal to prog fans, given when Sherinian made his name, but it should also appeal to anyone with a fondness for exceptional musicianship of a modern fusion persuasion with some crunching guitar included just for good measure.
‘The Phoenix’ which also features a number of other guests such as Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde and drummer Simon Phillips is released on the 18th September 2020 via InsideOutMusic.