Mike Phillips: You Have Reached Mike Phillips

Matt Cibula

Mike Phillips

You Have Reached Mike Phillips

Label: Hidden Beach
US Release Date: 2002-05-14
UK Release Date: Available as import

This is the best soft-jazz saxophone album that will be released this year. If you love soft-jazz saxophone albums, you've either already purchased You Have Reached Mike Phillips, or you've just shut down your computer and are on your way out the door to buy it. If you're any of the rest of us-the vast majority of humans on the planet-you're thinking that I'm damning the album with faint praise. Why, yes I am.

I first heard of Mike Phillips in the liner notes to Jill Scott's excellent Experience: Jill Scott 826+ album of last year. She called him "one of the most amazing artists of all time", which seemed a little thick; but his one-minute live solo on that disc's "The Way" was pretty hot for what it was, so I figured I'd give him the benefit of the doubt. Why the hell not? I was in a good mood.

And then I heard the album. I've had to listen to it several times -- such is the lot of the intrepid music writer-and my mood plummets every time. There is no denying that Phillips is a very good saxophone player -- his tone is rich and soulful, he's got breath control like nobody's business, and he's got a knack of spinning some interest from even the least inspired tune. But I guess he wanted to prove that last point, because that is exactly what we get on the majority of You Have Reached Mike Phillips: the least inspired tunes I've ever heard IN MY LIFE.

It doesn't start off that way, really: after the opening three snippets (a fakey "live in the subway" thing, a statement of the album's title track, and Phillips' daughter singing that same title track for a few seconds), we get our first real song, which shows what this album could have been. "Just One Take" is a real live jazz burner on the smooth tip, an actual real live demonstration of the art of improvisation. To a mid-'90s Babyface-style acoustic guitar/drum machine groove, Phillips rings all the changes he can with passion and fire and all the stuff we're supposed to hear in a saxophone solo, without ever destroying the chillout mood that producer Ivan Dupeé is going for. At one point, Phillips is really cooking and fluffs a note, which makes him yell out in frustration -- or, rather, label head Steve McKeever says he misses the note and yells in frustration. To my cynical ears, he never really loses the flow, and it's grandstanding . . . but hey, it's early in the record. I give him another break.

But my charity is not repaid. "A True Story (The Tabernacle-ATL)" destroys all any credit Phillips may have built up by completely sucking; the "twist" of Audra Woodard's spoken-word piece about a romantic encounter-the narrator . . . is a SAXOPHONE! -- is telegraphed way too early (no women I know actually have "dusty keys", but maybe I'm hanging with the wrong crowd). And the instrumentation has devolved into Rhodes noodling and mush-mouthed bass by the usually decent Richard Patterson. "Tonite" and "Beatin' on It" are so lightweight they might as well challenge Steve Johnston for the WBC championship, and "Stop What Ya Doin'" is an attempt at hip-hop jazz that is more interested in making people nod their heads slightly in an elevator than exploring anything interesting. I've given up on Ivan Dupeé at this point-although Phillips continues to wail away softly and gently on his sax, he's hardly supported at all. It's kinda like Alex Rodriguez on the Rangers: MVP on a shit team, which makes you wonder why he wanted to join the team in the first place.

But Dupeé is revealed as a producer and composer of the first water in the second half of the disc when Wayman Tisdale takes over the production. The most interesting thing about Tisdale's NBA career was that he was a pretty good musician, and the most important aspect to his jazz career is pretty clearly that he was a passable ballplayer. His songs here are even softer and easier than Dupeé's-and they're corny, to boot. Really, this is too easy to criticize, with song titles like "Will You Stick with Me" (the melody sure doesn't) and "Baby Calls" ("Baby Food") and "When It Comes to Lovin' Me" (um, that would be very difficult).

Phillips receives some emergency help near the end with two tracks done entirely by new producers. Derek "Doa" Allen's "Maria" is true quiet storm material, with a smoothed-out vocal part and some nicely multiple-tracked riffs by Phillips. And "Wonderful and Special" by Jazdin Reddy actually turns out to be well-described by its name; it's a funky neo-soul piece that revolves around Reddy's versatile Musiq-ish vocal skills. Yeah, Phillips seems like a hired hand here, but there's something to his solo that the earlier tracks don't bring out of him. Reddy's piece is by far the most exciting part of this disc, but it's buried as the 16th track on an album that most people will have abandoned by track seven.

Not even the easy blues of the title track that finishes off this 67-minute affair can rescue Mike Phillips from the ministrations of his producers. Phillips is a really good saxophone player, but he has some of the worst taste in music I've ever heard, and that really makes me wonder about how interested he really is in making great music rather than just filling a market niche, if there is one, for people who like soft-jazz saxophone records.

And now I have to re-evaluate Jill Scott, too. If she really thinks her labelmate is "one of the most amazing artists of all time", I guess I must have been wrong to think that she was any good at all. Damn: this record just destroyed somebody else's record in my mind. That's bad, people.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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