After writing about Brand X’s less beloved albums, I felt compelled to track down their earlier work and managed to find a lot of their first four records for cheap. Even better, all but Moroccan Roll turned out to be in immaculate condition. I mean, Moroccan Roll‘s in decent enough condition, with small amount of surface noise, but as it’s my least favorite of their early albums I’m not really sweating it either way. That album’s best tracks appear on Livestock, and live at that… which, for a band like Brand X, is the way to go anyhow.
Aside from Livestock, though, nothing the group recorded ever quite held up to Unorthodox Behaviour. I guess fusion jazz isn’t for everyone, but I find it hard to imagine anyone would take issue with this record. It’s a set of six or seven excellent instrumental performances by any standard, and while the group is best known for the fact that it features some of the best drum performances Phil Collins ever turned in (which is saying something), no one in the band could be said to slouch here. Guitarist John Goodsall (of Atomic Rooster, whence Carl Palmer of ELP originated) covers a broad spectrum of styles, from frenzied electric runs up and down the fretboard in the opening track, “Nuclear Burn” to subdued acoustic strumming to keep rhythm while bassist Percy Jones takes the lead in “Euthanasia Waltz.”
Brand X avoided the clichés and excesses one tends to associate with fusion jazz. While great, Unorthodox Behaviour never feels overly showy, not does it ever compromise a good groove for the sake of being needlessly technical. You can tell the album was recorded in the mid ’70s due to the production values (some of the more energetic passages strain the tolerances of the recording equipment, and it clearly predates Collins’ discovery of Hugh Padgham’s gated drum techniques) and the funk elements that flirt glancingly with the disco sound before settling back into earnest rock or fluid jazz.
Basically, what I’m saying is: This is a great goddanged album. Sounds fantastic on this ancient vinyl pressing I picked up, but even compressed to the grave and back again on YouTube, tracks like “Nuclear Burn” are pretty much hot fire:
Livestock is one of my all-time favorite live albums. Amusingly, my two favorite tracks on the album are the two that don’t feature Collins’ high-profile drumming — which isn’t a knock on his chops or anything. They’re just the better compositions. Whoever mastered Livestock did that thing where they almost completely mixed out the audience, so you hardly even know it was recorded live except for the airier sound stage and the slightly looser and more improvisational performances.
Summary: Good stuff, and I will probably listen to these records more in the next few years than they’ve been played in the past 40.