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Brand X: Missing Period/Live At The Roxy 1979/Is There Anything About

Album Review

Welcome reissues from Phil Collins’ fusion torch-bearers.

Among the most popular British purveyors of jazz-rock fusion in the late 70s, Brand X owed much to the involvement of Phil Collins, although it also boasted other heavyweight session and jazz players, melding virtuosity with tunefulness and a playfulness uncommon in such bands. Despite having been released previously, these ‘rarities’ embody a journey through the band’s ‘76-’82 career.

Originally released in 1997, Missing Period represents some of the earliest Brand X recordings. Some mystery about its origins remains, although bassist Percy Jones confidently claims that they were 1976 BBC radio broadcast recordings (with one live track from Ronnie Scott’s). Three of the tracks here are prototype/alternative versions of tunes that surfaced on other albums (Born Ugly from Moroccan Roll is here in an earlier form as Dead Pretty, for instance). 

The exuberance of the performances is striking. Opening tracks Dead Pretty and Kugelblitz, along with Miserable Virgin and later sections of Ancient Mysteries, are blistering, with furious drumming from Collins, the ever-bubbling bass of Jones and intense yet joyful guitar/keyboard interplay between Goodsall and Lumley. 

Live At The Roxy 1979 was recorded after the release of the Product album, and contains a cross-section of their back-catalogue. It’s evidence of just how good these musicians could be and the ease with which they worked together, but the poor quality of the recording – taken direct from the main sound-desk - makes for a frustrating listen. It’s flat, tinny, and at times actively irritating, with Collins’ hi-hat cymbals sounding especially nasty. 

By 1982, Brand X had ceased to be a working band in all practical respects, creating a minor problem when they realised that they were still under contract to produce one more album. The solution was to plunder outtakes and jams from sessions from the time of 1979’s Product. The result, the wildly varied Is There Anything About?, lacks any real sonic or compositional consistency and implies that the band had simply run out of steam. Ipanaemia’s brief bluesy-jazz intro suggests rawness and dirt, but then descends, albeit with lovely individual playing, into something akin to smooth-jazz elevator muzak. Tmiu-Atga is a sparse ambient jam which boasts atmosphere, but goes precisely nowhere and Modern, Noisy And Effective sounds like an attempt to be commercial but ends up resembling an old Casio keyboard demo track. 

As snapshots of a band’s career – from energy and innovation to desperate stabs at being contemporary – these albums represent a fascinating slice of British fusion history.

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