Damani Phillips - Yaktown Nights


After listening to saxophonist Damani Phillips debut “Yaktown”, I begin to reflect on Damani’s approach to his instrument based on skill and compositional arrangements. Phillips courts with the legacies of jazz transforming the old yet enveloping the new conceptually therefore; bridging the musical gap successfully. Damani essentially strikes a cord with “Yaktown” siftings through the passages of modern music showing what an aspiring musician can achieve with the proper training, skills and opportunity.   

The Players: Damani Phillips ~ Saxophones, Mike Jelick ~ Piano, Takashi Iio ~ Acoustic & Electric Bass and Adam James ~ Drums.   

Interestingly enough the Pontiac, Michigan native pours out his soul with a strong presence of a club jazz set. The realness of this setting is evident with “Sunset’s Last Embrace” the opening piece on “Yaktown Nights”. Damani appears comfortable smoking the cold steel with depth and conviction.  

Baystreet Bounce falls into the second position with the near perfect chemistry with a hip groove by Damani and the band; he soulfully strikes each note the surreal ness of a seasoned saxophonist. The expressive interplay by his budding sideman pours on a proper dose of satisfying jazz.  

Pianist Mike Jellick introduces an inspiring classic by Antonio Carols Jobim’s called “Corcovado”. Damani emulates but doesn’t hesitate, within a moments notice he approaches the classic by soloing in unpredictable matter therefore, giving us a more then adequate dose with a stellar performance as a soloist. Jellick’s piano solos are persuasive by nature as he probes the keys eloquently as if he’s visited this composition more than once. 

“Shalom” is a self-penned composition by Phillips. He swings with authority from the onset; the entire band offers superb musicianship supporting Damani’s tune with a perfect balance of substance and energy. Phillips has obviously spent an insurmountable amount of time in the woodshed honing his skills as a reeds man. 

Phillips returns with yet another enriching self-penned piece entitled “Spanish Kiss”. Damani’s solos are vigorously ambitious, full of promise with a purpose. Damani’s bandmates compliments his arrangement assuring Phillips that his composition is in good company. 

Yaktown Nights” authored by Phillips is his depiction of a contemporary jazz without borrowing from the hype of smoothness. The difference here is that Phillips is blowing, I mean seriously playing with precise execution taking the groove to the next level.    

Phillips recreates the classic Pavane, renaming it Pavane For 2G3. What I dig most about Damani’s arrangements is he appears too have fun with note, chord and phrase. Pavane For 2G3, has an irresistible groove with a live feel too it, delivering warm and passionate music (this is an ingredient that’s sorely missed in most recordings today).  

The next two tracks are alternate takes of Spanish Kiss and Pavane For 2G3, Damani and the crew continues etch within the fabric of jazz from yesteryear with shades of contemporary jazz flavorings of today. If you’re looking for music that ignores the trendy tendencies of smoothjazz, then you’ll find Yaktown Nights an appetizing musical journey.