Thursday, May 19, 2016

Brand X - 1992 - Xcommunication

Brand X 

01. Xanax Taxi (5:57)
02. Liquid Time (4:39)
03. Kluzinski Period (7:00)
04. Healing Dream (3:51)
05. Mental Floss (3:17)
06. Strangeness (3:23)
07. A Duck Exploding (6:47)
08. Message To You (0:25)
09. Church of Hype (5:54)
10. Kluzinski Reprise (4:25)

- Percy Jones / bass, keyboards on "Strangeness"
- John Goodsall / guitar, MIDI guitar, all keyboards and samples triggered by MIDI guitar except keyboards on "Strangeness")
- Frank Katz / drums
- Danny Wilding / flute on "Kluzinski Reprise"

 When I heard this, the first Brand X album in ten years, I thought, "This is very good, but there's something missing here." What's missing is Robin Lumley, or more generally, a keyboard player. While John Goodsall's guitar playing is as fast and as interesting as ever, Percy Jones bass playing is as great as Percy Jones almost always is, and Frank Katz' drumming makes you forget that singer who used to be a drummer, the lack of a keyboardist leaves the songs without that lushness and high-speed precision that Lumley added to the band.
Now, mind you, the songwriting is still like classic Brand X (without the Phul Colons pop songs, thankfully), and the entire disk from start to finish provides for a fantastic listening experience. So, for me, it's best to not try to compare this with the classic Brand X albums, and just sit back and enjoy.

Brand X - 1982 - Is There Anything About

Brand X 
Is There Anything About

01. Ipanaemia (4:30)
02. A Longer April (7:00)
03. Tmiu-Atga (5:07)
04. Swan Song (5:30)
05. Is There Anything About? (7:52)
06. Modern, Noisy, and Effective (3:56)

- Phil Collins / drums and concussion (1-3)
- Percy Jones / bass (5)
- John Giblin / bass, Whitbread, vocal (1-4,6)
- Robin Lumley / keyboards and vocal
- Peter Robinson / keyboards (6)
- John Goodsall / guitar (1-5)
- Raf Ravenscroft / saxophone (2)
- Stephen Short / syndrums and vocal (4)

Brand X has released some of the best fusion stuff ever. That said, this album, as stated in earlier reviews, sounds like some of the left-overs or outakes from "Do They Hurt", which in itself sounded like the left-overs from "Product". Not sure I understand slamming Phil Collins for HIS contributions, as Robin Lumley is the one who compiled this package -- it's almost a Lumley solo album with session players.
There are, however, a few bits that sound good, primarily the title track. "Is There Anything About" (the tune) is a great little jam, that almost sounds like it could have been a live track from "Livestock". Not a lot of substance, but it just cooks along, and contains just enough of that Brand X spontaneity and humor that the earlier material has.

"Ipanaemia" has a bit of a groove, and might have fit nicely on the 12" B-side of "Soho".

"A Longer April" is just a band version of "April" from "Product" with guest Ravenscroft on sax; personally I like the shorter April more.

"Swan Song" may have been more appropriately titled "Modern, Noisy and Effective", which in itself is an instrumental reworking of "Soho", utilizing the backing track from that song (but not nearly as good a melody).

The one track that needed not ever be released is "TMIU-ATGA" ("They're making it up as they go along"), which is one of the worst tunes I think I've EVER heard by ANY band (and CALLING it a tune at all is generous).

This album IS available on CD, although it is definitely NOT the release to introduce new listeners to the band. Completists might be pleasantly surprised that there IS SOMETHING ELSE about.

Brand X - 1980 - Do They Hurt

Brand X 
Do They Hurt

01. Noddy Goes To Sweden (4:30)
02. Voidarama (4:25)
03. Act of Will (4:44)
04. Fragile! (5:26)
05. Cambodia (4:30)
06. Triumphant Limp (7:28)
07. D.M.Z. (8:37)

- Percy Jones / bass on (1,3,4,5,7), vocals on (1)
- Peter Robinson / keyboards, tam-tam on (5,6)
- Michael Clarke / drums on (1,3,4,5,7)
- John Goodsall / guitar on (2,3,5,6,7), vocals on (3)
- John Giblin / bass on (2,6)
- Phil Collins / drums on (2,6)
- Robin Lumley / keyboards on (2,6)

"Cambodia" is probably the track that got my attention the first time I played this album. It has a very nuanced style through the sound creation the track produces. The other track that also attract me is "D.M.Z.". Musically, the band had tried to maintain their composition through the mix of heavier elements from jazz and rock. On musicianship I can hear how John Goodsall (guitar) had perfected his guitar-playing mode. Phil Collins drumming only share two tracks while major portion of drum isperformed by Michael Clarke. Am quite happy with the facts that Percy Jones plays more bass guitar than John Giblin. I personally prefer Percy Jones bass playing style than John Giblin because his style fits the music of Brand X really well. John Giblin whom I knew well through his contribution with Peter Gabriel. Giblin's style is more suitable with Peter Gabriel music, I think. Robun Lumley plays keyboard more than Peter Robinson.
I personally enjoy this album even though I prefer their "Morrocan Roll" album. Yes, it's an excellent addition to any prog music especially in the vein of jazz rock fusion . Keep on proggin' ..!

Brand X - 1979 - Product

Brand X 

01. Don't Make Waves (5:08)
02. Dance of the Illegal Aliens (6:52)
03. Soho (3:47)
04. Not Good Enough- See Me! (7:27)
05. Algon (where an ordinary cup of drinking chocolate costs .£ (6:07)
06. Rhesus Perplexus (4:06)
07. Wal to Wal (3:09)
08. ...And So To F... (6:34)
09. April (2:40)

- John Goodsall / guitar, (all tracks except 7), backing vocals (1, 3)
- John Giblin / bass (1, 3, 5 ,6, 7, 8, 9)
- Percy Jones / bass (2, 4, 7)
- Robin Lumley / keyboards on (1, 3, 5 ,6, 8, 9)
- Peter Robinson / keyboards (2, 4)
- Phil Collins / drums, percussion (1, 3, 5 ,6, 7, 8, 9); vocals (1, 3)
- Morris Pert / percussion (2, 4)
- Michael Clarke / drums on (2, 4)

Released in 1979, "Product" was Brand X's fourth studio album in as many years. The nature of the line up would appear indicate a degree of turmoil in the ranks, with none of the band members playing on every track. Phil Collins, who had been missing from the previous album "Masques", returned to the drums stool for 6 of the 9 tracks. With him came keyboard player Robin Lumley, who plays on the same tracks as Collins.

Surprisingly, the music is also subject to some significant diversity, as demonstrated by the opening "Don't make waves". This song, which was actually released as a single, is a lightweight, pop based number on which Phil Collins sings. Given that Brand X was always mooted as an escape for Collins from the strictures of Genesis, it does seem odd that he should lead the charge back towards the chart cravings which were plaguing Genesis.

Things turn towards the more orthodox Brand X product with the fusion based "Dance of the illegal aliens". Guitarist John Goodsall is the only band member from the first track to also play on this number, the bass, drums and keyboards positions all being filled by alternative members. The line up for this track also contribute "Not good enough, see me" a meandering, rather unfocused affair.

"Soho" sees the "Don't make waves" line up sounding more than ever like "Ababcab" era Genesis, with Collins pure pop vocals dragging the band far from their roots. This line up, which excludes bassist Percy Jones who is the catalyst for the two traditional tracks on side one, dominate the second side of the album, playing on all but one of the tracks. On side two however, their contributions are more in line with what we would expect from a Brand X album. This tends to disprove the theory that the two line ups were pulling in opposite directions, the misunderstanding arising through the two pop orientated songs on the first side.

The four tracks on side two which feature the Collins/Goodsall/Giblin/Lumley line up are straightforward jazz rock pieces, similar to those which appeared on previous Brand X albums. They do not do a lot for me, although "..and so to F.." has a spirited repetitive chant, but those who enjoyed the band's previous output should be satisfied with what they hear. The only other track on side two is a dull two basses and drums affair called "Wal to wal", the title referring to the type of basses used.

"Product" is an album which tends to split the fans of Brand X, mainly due to the presence of the two pop orientated numbers which Phil Collins sings on the first side. Those aside, this is a pretty standard Brand X album.

Brand X - 1978 - Masques

Brand X

01. The Poke (5:06)
02. Masques (3:17)
03. Black Moon (4:48)
04. Deadly Nightshade (10:54)
05. Earthdance (6:10)
06. Access to Data (8:04)
07. The Ghost of Mayfield Lodge (10:08)

- John Goodsall / guitar
- Peter Robinson / keyboards
- Percy Jones / bass
- Chuck Bürgi / drums
- Morris Pert / percussion, Fender piano (3)

- Norman Choir / credited on track 1 but unidentifiable (?)

 I've never met a Brand X album that I didn't like, and Masques is definitely one of the strongest of a stellar company!
For this one, Chuck Bergi takes over the skins from Phil Collins (who'll return to the fold for PRODUCT), and does a very stalwart and capable job. Founding band members John Goodsall (guitar) and Percy Jones (one of the all-time MASTERS of the fretless bass) remain, and percussionist Morris Pert is back to hit various and sundry instruments, objects and parts of Britain.

All of the songs on this disc are great, but I especially enjoy those by Pert: the powerful "Deadly Nightshade," the ebullient "Earth Dance," and the surprisingly pretty and delicate "Black Moon." (Goodsall's "Access to Data" is also awesome!) As always, the band leads the listener down many winding, weird and wondrous paths, with complex rhythms and time signatures. Throughout it all, their sense of timing is impeccable -- these are strictly top-shelf musicians!

But be warned: Brand X is typically not what I would classify as progressive rock. (There are, however, some genuine "prog" moments on the much more commercial -- and hence aptly named -- PRODUCT.) It's much more in the "jazz-fusion" vein: (generally) instrumental, electric, and often frantic. Thus, their music can be challenging and "difficult" for the uninitiated. (When I first heard them as a teen, I didn't much care for them, and dismissed their sound as "organized jamming." With age and more exposure to other forms of music, however, I finally "got" the band, and learned to love them!)

That said, if you have an open musical mind, and room for diversity in your collection, you'll likely grow to really appreciate this fabulously-talented band's unique, eclectic "brand" of music, and MASQUES would be a fine way to commence (or augment) your Brand X collection! Far out!

Brand X - 1977 - Livestock

Brand X 

01. Nightmare Patrol (7:50)
02. -Ish (8:20)
03. Euthanasia Waltz (5:30)
04. Isis Mourning (part one) (5:30)
05. Isis Mourning (part two) (4:45)
06. Malaga Virgen (9:35)

- John Goodsall / guitar
- Percy Jones / bass
- Robin Lumley / keyboards
- Morris Pert / percussion
- Phil Collins / drums (2, 3 & 6)
- Kenwood Dennard / drums (1,4-5)

Generally, live albums are often released to provide the bands some more time before the next studio album's release, but it's not always the case. Releasing a live album is also a cheap way of releasing a record, without too much studio expenses, but it's even worthier if most of the tracks are previously unreleased and such was the case of Livestock. Apparently recorded over (at least) two dates over the 76-77 years, since there is a drummer change, as Collins is missing out on two tracks (holidays are over, time to return to the day job), Ken Dennard filling in. (Ex-Pat Martino). The artwork shows a disgustingly rachitic woman's pair of legs coming out of a door and is no hint for the music.
Livestock is their third album and if it was recorded live, only two tracks were from previous albums. But the rest of the (unreleased) tracks are right on par with the excellence of their first two albums. Nightmare Patrol is, along with Macrocosm and Nuclear Burn, one of my fave tracks of BX. Next up is "?ish" and a personal favorite, slightly Santana-esque and the best of the new tracks. Both Euthanasia and Malaga Virgen (the only two tracks previously known) are rendered better in live than in their original studio versions. The lengthy two-part Isis Mourning is a delicate slow blues starter and is quite accessible.

This is the first album where Mr. Collins is not fully present (well, he did have a day job in a firm called Genesis) and his future coming and going will affects the cohesiveness of Brand X, IMHO. But in the meantime, he remains on the stool for most of this album, and he's brilliant.

Brand X - 1977 - Moroccan Roll

Brand X 
Moroccan Roll

01. Sun In The Night (4:25)
02. Why Should I Lend You Mine (11:16)
03. ...Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All (2:10)
04. Hate Zone (4:41)
05. Collapsar (1:35)
06. Disco Suicide (7:55)
07. Orbits (1:38)
08. Malaga Virgin (8:28)
09. Macrocosm (7:24)

- John Goodsall / electric & acoustic guitars, sitar, backing vocals, effects
- Robin Lumley / piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, autoharp (5), clavinet, synthesizers (Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, Roland string), backing vocals, effects
- Percy Jones / bass, autoharp (7), marimba (8), effects
- Phil Collins / drums, lead vocals, piano (3), effects
- Morris Pert / percussion

Second opus from this now-quintet, with the addition of percussionist Morris Pert, Moroccan Roll is born on an almost Canterburian pun, with an exotic Saharian artwork that has been retouched by high technology. The group is joined by Morris Pert, a percussionist that will beef up the sound of the group, but Pert will also become an important "songwriter" for the group.
One of the originality of this album is that it is Brand X's only with vocals (and even then mostly choirs) on the opening and closing tracks, but unfortunately it wasn't that good an idea. It doesn't help giving World Music credibility to the opening Sun In The Night, despite Goodsall's dabblings on a sitar. The Collins-penned double-shot "Lend" tracks (the lengthy titles might come from some Public Schoolboys friends of his that haven't fully grown up), but unlike what we'd expect, both tracks remains slow with the occasional Goodsall's McL-ian guitar bursts. A manic drum burst opens fire on the Hate zone, a full-funk piece where the group's five cylinders give it their best shot.

On the flipside, Collapsar (not to be confused with National Health's Collapso) is a short synth filler penned by Lumley and it doesn't even serve as an intro for his following Disco Suicide, an electric piano-led funky track, but certainly not my fave BX track, the synth sounds being cringe-y and the cheesy choirs and tubular bells are not helping either. Orbits is a bit Percy Jones' answer to Collapsar and just as useless, since it's no intro to his Malaga Virgen , an up-tempo track at the start where Jones tries to outdo Pastorius in the middle section, but is not helping his own composition in doing so. But Virgen's second half returns to the opening theme, before going bass-happy a second time. This writer doesn't understand all the hoopla on this track and much prefers the following monster-jam Macrocosm, the one BX track to rival with Nuclear Burn, with an overheating Goodsall guitar and an incredible end, as if the 5 cylinders of this group had problem stopping and misfired back on the track.

MR was for decades my fave BX, but once the millennium arrived, UB took over and has stayed ahead, because tMR one is too uneven, especially on the fillers. But don't get me wrong, MR is still the second best BX album and should please most fusionheads.

Brand X - 1976 - Unorthodox Behaviour

Brand X
Unorthodox Behaviour

01. Nuclear Burn (6:20)
02. Euthanasia Waltz (5:39)
03. Born Ugly (8:13)
04. Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria (4:26)
05. Unorthodox Behaviour (8:25)
06. Running on Three (4:37)
07. Touch Wood (3:03)

- John Goodsall / electric, acoustic (7) & 12-string acoustic (2) guitars
- Robin Lumley / piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Moog
- Percy Jones / fretless bass, marimba (5), acoustic bass (7)
- Phil Collins / drums, percussion, tambourine, vibes (2)

While Genesis was in a delicate phase, looking for a new frontman and its guitarist was releasing his first solo album (Acolyte), Phil was patiently waiting in the wings and became involved in this project, composed of absolute then-unknown, if it wasn't for maybe Goodsall, whom had a stint with Atomic Rooster. Phil Collins' participation in Brand X will actually play a role in Genesis, since his dabblings into JR/F will guide his choice into hiring both Chester Thompson (Zappa, Weather report) and a tad latter Daryl Struemer (Jean Luc Ponty's group). Obviously when listening to Phil drum works on BX and comparing it with Genesis material, it's quite clear that Phil listened and impregnated himself of Billy Cobham's Spectrum album.

Out of the mists of a post-modern world in Nuclear Burn, rises a guitar that has obviously been influenced by Carlos McLaughlin and the rest of the formation slowly rises from the ashes to become an instant success. Outstanding stuff. The first few seconds of Euthanasia Waltz are again reminiscent of Caravanserai, but Goodsall's acoustic strumming saves it and allow Lumley's Rhodes and Jones' ultra bass to shine. The following track's name the ultra-funky Born Ugly cannot possibly be talking about itself because it is one of the best electric piano-led funk-fusion pieces, courtesy of Lumley's Rhodes, but Goodsall's guitar does more than its share. It could've been an RTF track on their No Mystery album, Lumley's piano style certainly aiming at Corea's, while Jones's usual Jaco-esque game is replaced by a Stanley Clarke slapping play. Out of the deep vinyl groove, comes Euphoric Hysteria, which hesitates between Mahavishnu and Santana, before deciding neither with Lumley's disputable synth sound. The title track is slowly emerging a clock-like rhythm and a rounded bass and the two spend their time twisting about your eardrums and diddle with your sanity, slowly deconstructing its propos. Not exactly a winner, but it shows another facet of the group for albums to come. Running Of Three returns to the influence of Carlos McL and if it wasn't needlessly "flamboyant", you could imagine yourself on my jazz-rock reference Caravanserai. The short and soft Touch Wood is a calm ending to a fiery album: a fitting outro.

A classic fusion album of the times but the real interest is that, as opposed to contemporary groups such as Return To Forever, Spiro Gyra, Weather Report or even JL Ponty, this had a definitely English twist to it and it was a welcome change (just like the post-Allen Gong jazz-rock albums are) but this is not really Canterbury-style either although some people have done that amalgam. IMHO, however, the better times for this sort of music had already passed along with the 1st generation groups such as Mahavishnu, Miles Davis, Nucleus, Soft Machine, Mwandishi, etc.... But this one is definitely a gem!