“As you can see, Brand X does continue on,” bellows a gregarious John Goodsall during an incendiary set recorded in Pennsylvania. Their first release in 20 years finds Goodsall with bassist Percy Jones and former drummer Kenwood Dennard, alongside keyboardist Chris Clark and Scott Weinberger’s agile percussion. They’re clearly happy to be up there playing for a wildly enthusiastic crowd, and Stephen W Tayler’s stunningly detailed production puts the listener right up there in the sweet spot with them.
Some of the hottest instrumental music you’ll hear this year.
Aside from big names such as Soft Machine and Nucleus, the UK jazz rock scene was a bustling place in the 70s with less well-known bands such as Turning Point, John Stevens’ Away, Back Door, Zzebra, Pacific Eardrum, Paz and others. As good as they all were, toiling on the college circuit and occasionally nabbing support slots with big name rock acts, Brand X grabbed a higher profile thanks to their association with Phil Collins, moonlighting from Genesis.
Ending with more of a whimper than a bang in 1980, aside from an unsatisfactory reunion sortie in the 90s, they’ve been in danger of being as forgotten and overlooked as all those groups mentioned earlier. Yet albums such as 1976’s Unorthodox Behaviour and 1977’s Moroccan Roll and Livestock showcased a turbocharged outfit whose thunder was every bit the equal of the heavy weather the American jazz rock aristocracy generated. Forty years on, this Anglo-American incarnation breathes new life into classics like Nuclear Burn, Isis Mourning, Euthanasia Waltz and Malaga Virgen.
Percy Jones’ pugnacious bass work continues to dazzle as rumbling figures trip from his fingers, to push and prod the tunes into some unfamiliar tangles. Goodsall’s echo‑enhanced rushes across the fretboard show he’s lost none of the melodic sense of direction that historically informed the bulk of his guitar soloing. And let’s hear it for Chris Clark’s reading of …Maybe I’ll Lend You Mine After All, which leans heavily on Debussy channelling Keith Jarrett, offering up a moment of calm in the surging electricity of the night.
Between them, they still possess a killer synergy that enables them to journey into nebulous, free‑form clusters and terse, jazzy phrasing, only to flick the switch on abrupt accelerations into tight, twisting themes. That they achieve this so flawlessly provides abundant proof that this incarnation of Brand X is anything but a shadow of its former self. The last 18 minutes of this two-disc set features some of the hottest instrumental music you’ll hear this year. It’s good to have them back.