Saxophonist Mike Phillips has come up with the perfect combination of soul, jazz, and contemporary groove. With the help of several guest artists, his new album “Pulling Off The Covers” soothes the soul and simply brings a lot of joy to these ears. Singer Brian McKnight shines on a funky and smooth cover of Slave’s “Watching You”. And the a capella group Naturally 7 graces a modern-day, sumptuous version of “People Make The World Go Round”, not entirely as a vocal track, but more or less enhancing the brilliant sax work with add-ins.
Mike has worked with a lot of artists in the past, like Stevie Wonder, Waymon Tisdale, Kenny Lattimore, or Jonathan Butler, and has incomprehensibly been tagged too often as a so-called smooth jazz artist, but his approach and style on the sax and his fusion of jazz, soul, gospel, blues, and even hip hop, is anything but smooth jazz. I don’t like the phrase anyway. And even though he may come close to that particular genre on “Setembro”, the Ivan Lins classic, he maintains that particular grace and spirit that puts him far above many of his contemporaries.
This new album, only his fourth since his debut in 2002, contains mostly covers, as the title already suggests; well-chosen and executed with an uncanny honesty. Butterscotch with her immensely soulful vocals on “Just The Two Of Us” is brilliant, and I found myself turning up the volume higher than high for “What A Fool Believes”, the Doobie Brothers anthem that is second to none. Chris Brown’s “Fine China” probably is the least attractive addition here, but still has enough knack and power to keep up the positive momentum. Another one of my all time favorites, “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” by The Emotions (1977), comes across as soothing and soulful as it can get, with Mike staying away from over-blowing it but rather soaking up its intense and warm original stance. Angie Fisher helps out on vocals.
Bassist Andrew Gouche (Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, The Winans) puts a brilliant spin on “Three’s Company”, which also adds some fancy violin, and there are two versions of the jazzy, hip-hop-flavored “Flava In Ya Ear”, reminding me of Quincy’s Jook Joint project, with some amazing talents gathered for the catchy and hard-to-resist- tune, like Keyon Harrold, Trombone Shorty, Stevie Wonder, PJ Morton, Avery Sunshine, and Raheem DeVaughn. The first, longer version sums up best what Mike’s vision sounds like: a well-tempered mix, combined with the highest standard in production and playing. Mike concludes his highly enjoyable set with the introspective “Keep It Moving”, which he wrote with Derek Allen and Mike Hart.