Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Brand X - 2014 "Nuclear Burn" [4 CD Box]

Brand X is a jazz fusion band, originally active between 1975–1980 and 1992–1999. Noted members included John Goodsall (guitar), Percy Jones (bass), Robin Lumley (keyboards), Kenwood Dennard (drums) and Phil Collins (drums). Goodsall and Jones were the sole constant members throughout the band's existence. In 2016, Goodsall, Jones and Dennard reunited with new musicians Chris Clark on keyboards and Scott Weinberger on percussion.

Brand X - a band most people probably wouldn't know if Phil Collins hadn't been a member for a few years during the mid-70s. Collins felt a little restricted by the Genesis live shows and wanted to play a little more freely. And so he joined Brand X in the summer of 1975 (after the Lamb-Tour.) Thus, it was in no way "his" band. Brand X played mostly instrumental  jazz-rock, also called fusion at the time. That influence very soon also affected Genesis with Los Endos, for example. The time with Brand X also saw the first published song written by Collins alone (Why Should I Lend You Mine), his first use of a drum computer (Wal To Wal), and his first songs based on a home demo (Soho and Wal To Wal)

Genesis's Label back then, Charisma Records, were also responsible for Brand X and the LP releases. The albums were then also published on CD by Virgin at the end of the 80s. Now, there is a collection with the band's first 6 albums as an inexpensive 4 CD box. Nuclear Burn: The Charisma Albums 1976-1980.

The first thing to catch the eye: Six albums on four CDs? Indeed, the albums were squeezed together on four CDs, one after the other. It's, thus, impossible to listen to three of these six albums without changing CDs - unfortunate, but probably for budget reasons. The recordings are mostly ordered chronologically by release date, only Livestock's and Moroccan Roll's position was switched. Livestock's Isis Mourning was combined to one track as "Part 1 & 2" for the first time. They used to be separate parts on both CD and vinyl.

The box was also advertised as "remastered", suggesting potential improvements in sound compared to the original - so possibly a reason for buying it. (In the best case) a remaster means creating a new transfer from the original master tapes while (in the best case carefully) compressing, equalizing, and reducing noise. However, after listening very closely and digitally comparing the old and new versions it has to be said that the new ones were NOT remastered. Only the absolute dB-level was sometimes raised very slightly, without dynamic range adjustment. The relative volume of the individual songs on an album is still the same though. The booklet doesn't mention any remastering, by the way. But no need to worry: The first CD releases already sounded pretty good and, most importantly, had a high dynamic range, meaning the absolute differences between quiet and loud parts. This goes very well with the "spicy" arrangement.

Nuclear Burn Bonus Tracks

In addition to the six albums, four exciting bonus tracks were spread over the four CDs. These are BBC recordings from 1976 (John-Peel-Sessions).

1st: The Ancient Mysteries / Born Ugly / Kubit Blitz: 26/02/1976 Maida Vale 4 Studio, London (Jones, Lumley, Goodsall, Collins). The date indicated in the booklet, 08/03/1976, is the date it was first broadcast, not the one of the recording. Moreover, according to the BBC, the song was called Kubic Blitz and not Kubit Blitz.

2nd: Malaga Virgen: 15/07/1976, unknown BBS studio, London (same line-up as above, plus Preston Heyman:  percussions) Another song was recorded during the 15/07/1976 session (Why should I Lend You Mine, When You've Broken Yours Off Already? (sic!)), which isn't included here though.

With many of their albums out-of-print, the much-over-looked British jazz-fusion group, Brand X - which included in its ranks Genesis drummer, Phil Collins - finally get a long-overdue reissue of their Charisma catalogue thanks to a fine 4-CD box set that includes all six of the albums that they recorded between the years 1976 and 1980.

The group's debut, 'Unorthodox Behaviour,' released in '76, found the quartet - then comprising keyboardist Robin Lumley, guitarist John Goodsall, bassist Percy Jones and drummer, Phil Collins - creating a distinctive and technically-accomplished brand of instrumental jazz-fusion that was tinged at times with progressive rock elements (no surprise, perhaps, given Collins' Genesis affiliation). The set's standout, 'Nuclear Burn,' sounds like a British take on US jazz-rock giants, Return To Forever, especially with Goodsall's searing, rapid-fire fretboard pyrotechnics a la Al Di Meola. Having said that, though, listening to these 4 CDs confirms that Brand X weren't mere copyists and brought a truly individual and uniquely British sound and style to the jazz-rock arena (that was especially evident in some of the band's humorous song titles, such as 'Not Good Enough - See Me!' and 'Noddy Goes To Sweden').

Their second long-player, the in-concert album, 'Livestock' - recorded in the UK at Ronnie Scott's jazz club, the Hammersmith Odeon and the Marquee - demonstrates the band's potency as a live act. Phil Collins stayed in the drum chair - and also did the occasional vocal, exemplified by the exotic 'Sun In The Night' - for the band's sophomore LP, 1977's 'Moroccan Roll' (it's title, by the way, is a play on the words 'more rock and roll'). Influenced by Eastern sounds and sonically more atmospheric and less fierce than the band's debut LP, it charted in the UK and the USA. Among the highlights is the frenetic 'Disco Suicide' and the churning, reflective 'Macrocosm.'

The band's third LP, 'Masques' - which was also eastern-themed - couldn't emulate the chart fortunes of 'Moroccan Roll' and significantly, also had Chuck Burgi replacing Collins in the drummer's chair (due to the latter becoming the lead singer as well as the sticks man in Genesis after Peter Gabriel's departure). 'The Poke' is a solid, driving, lead-off track that melds rock dynamics with jazz virtuosity while the title cut and 'Black Moon'  are mellow soundscapes dominated by Percy Jones' fluid fretless bass.

'79's 'Product' witnessed Collins return to the band but doesn't quite reach the creative alchemy of the band's earlier LPs, even though it charted in the USA. Despite this, it's a solid and enjoyable affair that showcases the band's intuitive and tightly-crafted ensemble work. The flowing, upbeat 'Dance Of The Illegal Aliens' is one of its best tracks.

The final album in the set, 1980's 'Do They Hurt?' finds Collins sharing drum duties with US Headhunters' member, Mike Clark (who had also appeared on 'Product'). It turned out that the album's seven tracks were, in fact, outtakes from the 'Product' sessions a year earlier, which may account for it being not quite as memorable an offering as its predecessor. It's not without some good, arresting moments, though. The pulsing 'Noddy Goes To Sweden,' driven by Jones' sinewy fretless bass, is a quirky but engagingly offbeat opener and the more commercial, pop/rock-oriented 'Act Of Will' is distinguished by a vocoder vocal. Underscoring the band's irreverent sense of humour is the fact that Monty Python member, Michael Palin, penned the album's hilarious and madcap liner notes, which are reproduced in full in the accompanying booklet.

The inclusion of the band's sessions for the BBC is a welcome bonus but the omission of the rare, non-album B-side, 'Pool Room Blues,' as well as the absent live EP track, 'Genocide Of The Straights,' means that some fans will feel a couple of twinges of disappointment. Even so, there's an awful lot of music to digest here, much of it still holding the attention despite being over 30 years old. Some serious listening, then, is required here for a band that never really took itself too seriously.

Tracks Listing

CD 1 (48:33)
1. Nuclear Burn (6:20)
2. Euthanasia Waltz (5:39)
3. Born Ugly (8:13)
4. Smacks Of Euphoric Hysteria (4:26)
5. Unorthodox Behaviour (8:25)
6. Running On Three (4:37)
7. Touch Wood (3:03)
8. The Ancient Mysteries
9. Born Ugly
10. Kubit Blitz
11. Nightmare Patrol (7:50)

CD 2 (75:48)
1. -Ish (8:20)
2. Euthanasia Waltz (5:30)
3. Isis Mourning (Part 1 & 2) (10:15)
4. Malaga Virgen (9:35)
5. Sun In The Night (4:25)
6. Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Yours Off Already) ... (11:16)
7. ... Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All (2:10)
8. Hate Zone (4:41)
9. Collapsar (1:35)
10. Disco Suicide (7:55)
11. Orbits (1:38)
12. Nightmare Patrol ()

CD 3 (67:51)
1. Macrocosm (7:24)
2. Malaga Virgen (5:06)
3. The Poke (3:17)
4. Masques (4:48)
5. Black Moon (10:54)
6. Deadly Nightshade (6:10)
7. Earth Dance (6:10)
8. Access To Data (8:04)
9. The Ghost Of Mayfield Lodge (10:08)
10. Don't Make Waves (5:08)
11. Dance Of The Illegal Aliens (6:52)

CD 4 (73:30)
1. Soho (3:47)
2. Not Good Enough - See Me! (7:27)
3. Algon (Where An Ordinary Cup Of Drinking Chocolate Costs ?8,000,000,000) (6:07)
4. Rhesus Perplexus (4:06)
5. Wal To Wal (3:09)
6. ...And So To F... (6:34)
7. April (2:40)
8. Noddy Goes To Sweden (4:30)
9. Voidarama (4:25)
10. Act Of Will (4:44)
11. Fragile (5:26)
12. Cambodia (4:30)
13. Triumphant Limp (7:28)
14. D.M.Z. (8:37)

Total Time 265:42

Line-up / Musicians

- John Goodsall / Guitar
- Percy Jones / Bass
- Robin Lumley / Keyboards (CD 1; CD 2; CD3 (1))
- Phil Collins / Drums, Percussion, Vocals (CD 1; CD 2; CD 3 (1))
- Robin Lumley / Keyboards (CD 2 (5 - 12); CD 3 (1))
- Morris Pert / Percussion (CD 2 (5-12); CD 3 (1))
- Peter Robinson / Keyboards (CD 3 (3 - 9))
- Chuck Bergi / Drums (CD 3 (3 - 9))
- Michael Clarke / Drums (CD 3; CD 4 (2))
- John Giblin / Bass (CD 3 (11); CD 4 (2))
- Kenwood Dennard / Drums (CD 1 (11); CD 2 (3))

Releases information

CD 1 - tracks from "Unorthodox Behavior" (1976) and "Livestock" (1977)
CD 2 - tracks from "Livestock" (1977) and "Moroccan Roll" (1977)
CD 3 - tracks from "Moroccan Roll" (1977), "Masques" (1978), and "Product" (1979)
CD 4 - tracks from "Product" (1979) and "Do They Hurt?" (1980)

7 comments:

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