Sunday, August 7, 2016

You Tried the Rest, Now Rediscover Brand X

Left to Right: Scott Weinberger, John Goodsall, Percy Jones,
Kenwood Dennard, Chris Clark
The 70s English jazz/fusion band Brand X will be making their long awaited return this fall, reuniting for a handful of dates this October. Though there were rumors of a reunion in 2012, they never came to fruition, much to the frustration of fans of the band, which has not played regularly since 1999.

This time it's real. The band is in rehearsals and tickets are on sale (I got mine). The band, helmed by guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Percy Jones (the band's only consistent members since their founding in 1975) will include drummer Kenwood Dennard, who toured with the band  in the late 70s, and new additions Chris Clark on keyboards, and Scott Weinberger on percussion. The upcoming tour is set to feature work from the bands first three albums:  Unorthodox Behaviour (1976), Moroccan Roll (1977), and their live album Livestock (1977), the last of which featuring Dennard, then recently off his stint with guitarist Pat Martino.

While their sound is most identifiably rooted in jazz/fusion, the band's fan base largely consists of fans of English progressive and experimental  rock, largely due to the founding members'  work in the genres. Goodsall had been a member of the prog rock band Atomic Rooster, while Percy Jones would also come to be known for his work with Brian Eno and Soft Machine. Phil Collins' notable contributions to the band's 70s output also raised awareness of the band for some. In fact, to this day, hipsters everywhere play old recordings of Brand X to their unsuspecting friends to show the extent of his drumming chops. The downside to this is that, for some, Brand X came to be referred to as "Phil Collins's other band," which clearly does a disservice to the band and ignores the extent of their prowess and significance. The fact that the Brand X roster, particularly in their original heyday between 1976 and 1979, featured a rotating cast of some the best players within progressive rock and jazz/fusion genres is often unfairly overlooked because of this. During this period the band would feature musicians such as the percussionist/composer Morris Pert, drummer Chuck Burgi (presently in Billy Joel's band), keyboardist Peter Robinson (formerly of the woefully underrated progressive rock trio, Quatermass, and later the composer of the score for the movie Return of the Living Dead, Part 2... seriously, no joke), and former Headhunters drummer Mike Clark.

Also, while most fusion bands of the early 70s were based around a definite bandleader who dictated
Brand X, circa 1977.
Morris Pert, Phil Collins, Goodsall, Robin Lumley, Jones
the style and whose instrumental leads were more prominently featured, Brand X seemed more democratic. On the first several albums, no particular composer dominated, and the sound favored no instrumentalist. While at times, this could lead to some amorphous improvisations, usually the sound was alternately ethereal and powerful, with solid hooks, driving rhythms and a healthy injection of funk. There was a sharply honed musical communication and sense of exploration and mischief (also, their album's liner notes are some of the funniest of the era). Also, unlike some of the most indulgent examples of fusion, even at their most virtuosic, they never let instrumental pyrotechnics overshadow the groove.

In spite of this, however, it has proven to be difficult to find Brand X's place in the musical canon, and theirs has long been a cult following. Similarly to Jeff Beck's mid 70s fusion experiments (did I say experiments? I meant masterpieces), the musicians in Brand X had too much of a background in rock to be accepted whole -heartedly by the jazz community (many of whom only grudgingly accepted jazz legends Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock's forays into rock and funk, if they indeed accepted them at all). On the other hand, their improvisation-heavy instrumental music was simply not going to put them on the pop charts. (In 1979, during the final recording sessions of the band's initial incarnation, they tried their hand at a couple of actual pop/rock songs, with actual lyrics, sung by their drummer, Phil, who was actually becoming a rock star by that time. It resulted in no major hits and merely watered down their sound.)

Today, it seems that Brand X fans are generally people with decidedly elastic musical tastes, and choose to find the similarities between genres rather than the differences. These are people who like Phish and Umphrey's Mcgee on one hand, Genesis and Yes on another, and Weather Report and Return to Forever on their third hand (and yes, all Brand X fans have three hands. It's a strange phenomenon). These are people who value good music, made my good musicians on real instruments, while possessing a deep  musical curiosity and longer attention spans than most. They're out there; I've met them.

Playing a handful of dates in intimate venues, this tour seems very much to be a gift for their old fans. The band has not yet made it clear whether this is a warm up for a larger scale comeback, which perhaps would be accompanied by development of new material and a more extensive drawing from their back catalog. I certainly hope that this will be the case. I would like to see this line-up gel and continue to explore new music, but with the same spirit as their classic incarnations, and find itself with an all new fan base. In any event, this short tour will give people a chance to rediscover what made Brand X great in the first place.

Brand X will be playing at Iridium in New York City on October 27th and 28th. For more information and tickets visit

For information about other dates check Brand X's officialFacebook page.

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