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Sherinian/Phillips – Live (InsideOut)

27 December 2023

Drummer Simon Phillips and keyboardist Derek Sherinian are fixtures in the rock, progressive, and fusion firmament. A couple of Phillips’ high-profile projects have included a lengthy stint with Toto and significant work with Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend (both solo and with The Who). Sherinian has performed with Billy Idol, Alice Cooper, and Joe Bonamassa to name only a few, and spent several years as a member of Dream Theater. The pair have collaborated on original material since Sherinian’s 2001 album Inertia. On Live, the pair partner with guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and bassist Ric Fierabracci, forming a prog-rock dream team of virtuosic player’s players. The material captured at The Grape in Ventura, California on August 29, 2022 veers away from the jazz-fusion field where the players have acknowledged experience and acumen, leaning into expansive arrangements of progressive rock instrumentals. The show begins with the chugging space-rock/surf of “The Vortex.” The band careens through odd-time excursions with the occasional jazz flair like “Temple of Helios,” but overall, this set will appeal to fans of classic and contemporary prog like Yes, Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard, and Big Big Train. Thal and Sherinian trade dazzling licks on complex material like “Empyrean Sky,” wherein Sherinian leans into his grinding Hammond organ and Phillips steps forward with head-spinning fills and brief solos. The interplay extends to “Inertia,” featuring Sherinian’s spacious and cinematic keyboard textures adorned with dizzying riffs. “Barnacus” is an extended, mood-setting percussion workout that leads into the intricate yet off-kilter “Seven Seas.” The song features Fierabracci’s nimble bass solo, with lines that continue as counterpoint to Thal’s heady flight. Thal steps forward with languid melodies, bends, and keening arcs on the atmospheric “Ascension.” “The Phoenix” is an unrelenting rocker that suggests influence by Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” The set list is pulled from five of Sherinian’s nine solo albums since 2001. All of these but 2009’s Molecular Heinosity included significant contributions from Phillips, and three were co-produced by the drummer. Live finds the band letting the music do the talking, although Phillips offers his thanks to the studiously attentive crowd before introducing the bandmembers and identifying Phillips as “my partner in crime.” The album and concert conclude with 11 minutes of the sophisticated showstopper “Aurora Australis,” which is the only song during which the musicians audibly lose lock for a fleeting moment and thereby reveal their humanity. This set provides a good overview of Sherinian’s solo arc, augmented with the immediacy and energy of live performance.