We flagged Phoenix up as something special before Christmas after hearing just one excellent track, 'New Mornings'. The album begins with what sounds like a police siren and a spoken word extract from the veteran political activist Angela Davis. Produced by Terri Lyne Carrington the style lands at times in a Terence Blanchard sound world but just as often sits well with the vanguard of imaginative progressive post-bop (think bands like in recent years the Wayne Shorter quartet, Dave Holland's Aziza etc) the main focus alto saxist Lakecia Benjamin is highly persuasive on the dourly compelling 'Amerikkan Skin'. Then 'New Mornings' finds the tempo pushed hard by drummer EJ Strickland while avant singer Georgia Anne Muldrow contributes an avant dimension on the panoramic title track. The Ella Fitzgerald of our times Dianne Reeves on 'Mercy' completely turns the tables from ''outside'' to ''inside'' and provides a classic ballad feel which is probably the best track of all. With a lot of guest power that does not detract from the core the great Patrice Rushen is a very welcome presence on 'Jubilation' Rushen's tumbling accompaniment spurs Benjamin on. Recorded phone calls as musique concrète don't do much for us but the poetry and voice of Sonia Sanchez that it introduces on 'Peace is a Haiku Song' does even when the delivery is clunky the words set against Jahmal Nichols' string bass matter more (the conscious message is: life goes on despite all prejudice) and the uptempo dash and much better 'Blast' with Sanchez again and the response of blissful horns in the tutti (including trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr son of the great Milesian) in the winning blend anticipate Benjamin's best solo of the album when it's time to cut loose. There's a lot here on a maximalist album. Ultimate jedi master Wayne Shorter even plays a Obi-Wan Kenobi role on 'Supernova' that becomes thanks to fine studio production like a hologram presence. Benjamin's best work to date its brilliance based on both instrumentalism and conscious engagement with a fucked up America and beyond is startling. So for the bigger picture adding to that first track that we heard way back, how does the rest stack up then? If anything it's even more impressive on multiple levels when sheer instrumentalism is not enough Phoenix has something to say and there is so much hard baked within to consume and rush to take away.