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Brand X - Timeline CD (album) cover


Brand X


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.79 | 25 ratings

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Man With Hat
4 stars Two moments in time.

Timeline is a 2 CD set from Brand X highlighting two different periods of the band's history. First, a show from 1977, featuring most of the "classic" Brand X lineup (only Phil Collins is missing) and then a show from 1992, with a smaller trio lineup that is certainly a different beast all together, showing the change in the Brand X form. While the 1992 is nice, the 1977 set is blistering, and shows what a well oiled machine early(ish) Brand X was.

The Chicago show is filled to the brim with well known pieces from the first three albums (plus Nightmare Patrol). The playing is absolutely superb. Kenwood Dennard does a fine job behind the kit, replacing Collins fairly convincingly in my opinion. The keys and guitar set wonderful atmospheres (at least when not soloing) and, of course, Percy's basslines are spot on and bubbly. However, the real star of the show is Morris Pert. Firstly, the percussion is mixed way up in the mix, allowing the listener to really hear the all subtle contributions from Pert that really make this music unique, something that is a bit lacking in the studio releases to my ears. However, there are multiple instances when subtlety is thrown out the window and his playing is akin to fire scorching the ragged and helpless Earth below. The recording really allows the listener to hear how busy Pert is, even in the calmer sections, and as a fan of percussions it really is a joy. As for standout songs, Nightmare Patrol surpasses the version found on Livestock with extra kick and possibly a bit more of a sinister atmosphere. Disco Suicide is also given a fine workout, with the percussions working overtime. Nuclear Burn would round out my top three (and as an extra bonus there is a small percussive feature near the end of Nuclear Burn). The only downside to disc one, is that for tracks 6-8 the sound quality drops off, fairly significantly. Its not unlistenable, but you do lose some of the subtly, as it sounds like it was being recorded from backstage (or across the room). Most everything is still hearable, but it is a bit muffled, and it is quite noticeable with the impeccable sound quality of the first five songs. But still, even with this, disc one is still worth a minimum of 4 stars.

Disc two is unfortunately less successful. The trio format certainly makes it sound more like Percy's band after Brand X (Tunnels), aside from the fact that the guitar is quite prominent and there is no midi vibes. My main issue with this one is that there is a certain bit of sameness that is cast over the latter half of the disc. While nothing is really bad, few things stand out, especially on repeated listens. I suppose there is a certain nostalgia (if you can call it that) factor dealing with the loss of the keys and extra percussion. These ingredients gave Brand X an edge over other jazz-rock groups of the time. But, Brand X sans these features makes it feel a little more ordinary. Granted, this isn't run of the mill stuff here...the bass in particular paints wonderful colors that are true to the time old Brand X canon. Another aspect that I'm less enthused about is the drumming style of Frank Katz. While it is certainly competent, it is more ordinary/straight forward than the "typical" drumming style that Brand X usually employs. Even the drum solo is fairly average, but worse fairly typical for the length it is given. I suppose it gives the music a more rock base for the music, which isn't a bad thing in itself. It just, doesn't particular work here for me. Having said all that, there is still some better tracks here. I do like the Introduction (which thankfully is mostly music rather than words) and A Duck Exploding is pretty nice, even though it wanders a bit near the middle/end. Thalidomide Squid and Strangeness also would be top tier tracks to my ears, but it is difficult to pick out outstanding aspects to these songs. Again, playing is quite skilled, it just sometimes misses the mark. But the sound quality is quite nice (though not as good as the first five tracks from disc one). Overall a 3 star rating for disc two.

All in all, the 1977 show from Chicago is a real winner and something fans of early Brand X need to hear. For me, it blows Livestock away no questions asked. The 1992 show would appeal more to fans of more "normal" sounding fusion or those who prefer a rock basis for your jazz/rock-fusion. (As a side note: the liner notes provide some specific detail about the history of Brand X that as a big fan of the group is nice to see laid out very simply.) Overall, I'd give this a 3.5 but I'll round up on the strength of disc one alone. If you can find this somewhat cheap, don't hesitate. Somewhat recommended.

Man With Hat | 4/5 |


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