Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Unorthodox Behaviour" coming from Brand X

It's late, almost bed time for me, and I haven't even put up a post in my music blog for today.  Just for that, I'll dig up a CD review I did at the web site almost 10 years ago, on a CD called "Unorthodox Behaviour" by the fusion band Brand X ...


One look at many of Brand X's song titles should tell you that you're in for something very different: "A Duck Exploding," "Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Yours Off Already)" easing into "... Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All," etc. Look them all up and be entertained by the song titles themselves.

Was Brand X rock? No, but they certainly rocked. Were they fusion? I suppose if we HAD to put a label on them, that would be about as close as we could come to being accurate. I have a hard time comparing them to Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report myself, though there are occasionally faint nods toward those fusion supergroups (as in the jazzy sound of "Touch Wood" to close out this album with Jack Lancaster guesting in a brief sax accompaniment straight out of the Wayne Shorter School of quietly brilliant sax riffs).

This was 1976. This was Phil Collins stepping away from Genesis and its quest for a new lead singer for some outside "play time" and showing just how good he could really be on a drum kit and in other various forms of percussion (before Morris Pert joined to make it a quintet with "a vast number of bits and things that he hit while the tape was running, including: the Q.E. 2, Idi Amin, and undiscovered parts of Scotland") without vocals getting in the way. This was "Jammin' Phil," and he wailed. But it was much more than Phil Collins and the fame he was already gathering with Genesis.

This was Percy Jones stepping away from Brian Eno's music and putting in his own bid for "greatest bass player alive" status among the rest of the fusion bass giants of the day. This was John Goodsall stepping away from Atomic Rooster and session work and making a greater name for himself but still being a vastly underrated guitar player and composer who could easily trade licks with the best of 'em in both speed and style. This was Robin Lumley moving away from his role as live-concert pianist for David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars and vast amounts of session work and making a name for himself as a very tasteful keys player.

This was an immediately brilliant breakthrough for a new band. I'm not quite sure they've totally equaled it overall on one album since then, though they've come awfully close a few times through the years with follow-up works such as "Morrocan Roll" and (depending on who you talk to) "Do They Hurt?"

"Nuclear Burn" suits its title well. After nearly 6 1/2 minutes of ferocious drumming, you kind of want to tell Phil, "Hey, take a break, man, you've earned it!" The acoustic guitar work of Goodsall sets a nice tone for the laid back groove of "Euthanasia Waltz" before Lumley chimes in with a gorgeous solo of his own, and all the while Jones and Collins are laying down a perfectly entertaining rhythm. "Born Ugly," "Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria," pretty much all through this album ... it's all about laying down a very nice groove, expanding on it, allowing each other to go on timely riffs, and staying nailed-down tight throughout. There isn't a song on here that one might think lasted too long or not quite long enough. This is simply music that's sheer fun from first note to last (perfect music to drive to), and when you hear Phil in the middle of the title track shouting "Ha!" you can tell these guys are having tons of fun jamming to this stuff themselves.

In the Brand X catalog, this would become the album all others would be compared with. The bar was set high at the starting line. A unique achievement, but not surprising when you look at the players and all they'd already done before coming together to form that ultra-unique outfit known as Brand X.

Brand X would go on from Unorthodox Behaviour to expand, evolve, rotate, break up, get back together in a trio, move on ... probably the closest thing we have today to Brand X is the band Tunnels with Jones, MIDI vibe player Marc Wagnon, drummer extraordinaire Frank Katz, along with assorted appearances from Goodsall and Mark Feldman on violin. It's like they know how to breathe as one, everyone destined to play together in all their various forms. And, at their best, they're destined to leave listeners struggling to catch their breath.


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