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TIMELINE

Brand X

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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4 stars I was pretty proud of myself back in the mid-70's when I stumbled upon a couple of records ("Moroccan Roll" and "Livestock") by a British jazz fusion outfit called Brand X that had one of my new-found prog heroes Phil Collins showing his jazz chops at the drum stool. Looking back, though, I have to admit that I was probably more enamored of the IDEA of this generically-named band with the awesome bass player (Percy Jones) than I was of the actual progressive fusion that they played. Times and tastes have changed over the decades, and I've grown to fully appreciate the unique sound of this band, bought almost all of their cd's (especially the earlier stuff), and now wish that there were many more bands that had Brand X's courage, chops and compositional skills to populate my cd collection.

"Timeline" is a fantastic live double cd. Disc 1 showcases the late-70's line-up (without Collins) and includes unique versions of many their best compositions. I must admit to a little disappointment at the slight decline in tape quality on the last couple of songs on this disc, but everything else sounds pretty good. And I find that I was never more aware of Morris Pert's omnipresent percussion touches than on this live performance.

Disc 2 hails from the early-90's trio line-up, with more straight-ahead rock fusion. Goodsall's guitar tone is beautiful here, and he somehow manages to simultaneously play some string synths (part of his Midi guitar?) in many places on this disc. He also has a great 4:00 acoustic/electric solo ("Healing Dream") reminiscent of the McLaughlin school of guitar, and based roughly on the riff he plays in "Macrocosm". Frank Katz has a good (if not entirely unique) 7:00 drum solo, and plays a great accompaniment to Jones' Pastorius-like bass solo ("Strangeness"). Disc 2 is all great stuff folks.

I also love the timeline history of the band (and its roots and branches) that covers the inside liner notes. (Where oh where is that 1974 master tape of Peter Gabriel with Collins, Goodsall, Rutherford and Ant Phillips?!)

"Timeline" will round out your Brand X collection nicely. Recommended.

Report this review (#123086)
Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
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.

Report this review (#439882)
Posted Thursday, April 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Firstly, a distinction must be made about this 2 disc release. The first disk revolves around tunes from early albums and featuring much of the classic line-up minus PHIL COLLINS. Disc 2 recorded 15 years later by a pared down band, a trio that at best is referred to as BRAND X Mark II, but in reality, their approach don't compare well with early BRAND X material.

Disc 1 one contains compositions that projected the band to well-earned stellar recognition are delivered here with commendable accuracy. The complexities involved would be a challenge to any highly skilled artist and the band handles that well in a live environment. There are some minute changes, the odd flaw that is a bit of an issue if one is familiar with the studio releases burned deeply onto one's brain over a few decades, though. Pretty good, but "Livestock" performed around the same time is seen as a far superior release.

Disc 2 is BRAND X only by name. This power trio of two founding members plus a new drummer have completely missed the mark of what made the original band exceptional. Three musicians show that the collective contributions of 5-6 altogether is a hard act to follow. This hard edged outfit appears to be in perpetual limbo between Heavy-Prog, Avant and even industrial approaches, but fail to fully succeed in any of the above. Had I only known this version of the band, BRAND X would never have made it quoted as one of my fave bands in British Jazz-Rock.

This release should have been split into two different ones. The title "Timeline" may be appropriate, but hardly a winner.

I had been privy to hear exceptional, but officially unreleased material by early BRAND X, but we'd be approaching bootleg territory there. It seems that record companies are sitting on their hands, depriving the public of quality material.

This is not a strong release, you'll find the same tunes performed much better elsewhere.

R

Report this review (#1090968)
Posted Monday, December 16, 2013 | Review Permalink

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