Album Review: Derek Sherinian, “The Phoenix”

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Derek Sherinian a few years ago here on Proglodytes. As a longtime fan of Derek’s tone, I asked him about the “Sherinian touch”. He explained that a major part of tone is “learning to harness the power of imposing your personality through the instrument”. Derek’s latest solo record, The Phoenix, is a prime example of a musician harnessing their personality through their instrument. Despite the variety of genres that can be found on The Phoenix, every track on this album manages to manifest Derek’s trademark intensity and musical passion.

A perfect example: opening track “The Phoenix” starts off with an Eddie Van Halen-esque solo, only to rip into guitar solos, bass solos, keyboard solos, and heavy double bass drumming. This electricity is present in every track, from the energetic acoustic piano of “Dragonfly” to the funky Buddy Miles cover “Them Changes” (featuring guitar and vocals by Derek’s bandmate Joe Bonamassa) to the Latin-infused “Pesadelo” (featuring guitar pyrotechnics from Brazilian guitarist and Angra/Megadeth alum Kiko Loureiro).

Derek has an uncanny ability to bring out the best from his collaborators, which is a testament to both his ability to select the right player to the song, and also his ability to act as a musical director and guide the musicians through his vision for the tracks. Each track features a different set of world class musicians, and of course Derek takes advantage of every bit of their talent, with solos abounding on this record, and incredible playing throughout. But it’s not just a wankfest, and I think a big part of that comes with the caliber of musicians that were chosen, and the framework they were given by Derek. There are so many amazing musicians out there, but masters of their craft know when to step forward, to blend, or to step back.

His clear chemistry with drummer Simon Phillips (the only musician that plays on every song) is evidence of this. Both of them could shred with the best, but they manage to achieve an incredible artistic symbiosis, one that brings out the best in both musicians. The ephemeral fusion track “Clouds of Ganymede” is another perfect example of this. The track features guitar legend Steve Vai, and yes, both Derek and Steve trade off a series of complex and technical solos, but their solos are traded in a way that magnifies both of their immense talents, and their shared passages are powerful, as their lead voices intertwine and weave in and out of each other.

One of the other standout tracks on this album is “Dragonfly”. This song exemplifies Derek’s ability to channel his intensity through music. Though the track may be the first of his to feature acoustic piano, it still maintains a ferocity in its angular rhythms and passages. Ernest Tibbs’ solid bass playing and Simon Phillips’ stellar drumming are particular highlights here.

I knew I’d like this album, as I’ve been a fan of Derek’s work in Dream Theater, Planet X, and other groups for many years, but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. With his resume, he could have rested on his laurels and made a great album of heavy fusion or hard rock. Instead he chose instead to take more of a risk and showcase his versatility, incorporating an even greater variety of styles and genres into his work than we’ve seen in his already diverse discography. While he could have made an album that mostly features his solos, he instead shows off his tremendous skills as musical director, bringing out the best in the amazing artists he chooses. The result is a joy to listen to from start to finish- 8 smart, intense, and diverse tracks from one of rock music’s most distinct voices.

Derek Sherinian’s latest solo album, The Phoenix, will be released on September 18th, 2020 through InsideOut Music. Preorder it here.

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