Mike Phillips,
Uncommon Denominator
(Hidden Beach, 2005)

OK, so jazz is not my big thing, but every so often I'll meander into the genre and try to find a connection. What I found this time is Mike Phillips, a saxophone player schooled in Mt. Vernon, NJ. The press sheet calls him a "Harlem horn star."

Phillips is an obvious innovator as he shares conventional and unconventional sounds with good solid musicianship. He shows on this CD that he's an inspirationist using tools of talent, energy and versatility.

This CD's produced by Hidden Beach, a production company with a firm set of beliefs written on their website. They look like a company with definite integrity and vision. Philips' many music credits include a tour with Stevie Wonder and Prince, rap recordings with Will Smith, and opening for Jill Scott.

What I found on Uncommon Denominator is a CD that fulfills. It fills a space that you didn't know was empty. The flow and ebb of the tracks lift and groove, slide and soothe. More than a simple jazz CD, the saxophone under Phillips' lips moves into sweet and strange places.

The cuts are bright and sharp, and one like "If It Takes All Night" is a lullaby to love. "G-money" rolls and sways with bursts of oomph. "Heartbeat of the City" moves in a funky stream of noise, yet it's intensely warm and homey.

You'll find music by Phillips himself, Frankie Beverly ("We Are One,") Jerry Barnes, Sherrod Barnes, Lee Huston Jr., Shawn Hibbler, Gary Haase, Rex Rideout, Travon Potts, Jeff Lorber, Trina Powell, Bruce Flowers and Janek Gwizdala.

That's a lot of different voices and the combination of arrangements with talking, innovative bumps and jives might be too much for a few, but I think Phillips manages to take all these musical voices to the right place and plays a CD that gathers everyone in for a show that hits the heart. This is a giving CD and a nurturing type of jazz that I enjoyed every minute of.

by Virginia MacIsaac
28 October 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.