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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Brand X: XCommunication


1) Xanax Taxi; 2) Liquid Time; 3) Kluzinski Period; 4) Healing Dream; 5) Mental Floss; 6) Strangeness; 7) A Duck Exploding; 8) Message To You; 9) Church Of Hope; 10) Kluzinski Reprise.

Say what you want, but there are dumb careers and there are smart careers, and even if you hap­pen to be instinctively bored by any sort of jazz fusion, you will still have to admit that Brand X had an almost unusually smart career for a band that was once started by Phil Collins. For in­stance, they totally sat out the Eighties, a most unfortunate decade for old-timers as a whole, and only once its excesses were over, Goodsall revived the old brand once again — this time, envi­sioning Brand X as a lean and mean «power trio». The only old veterans here are Goodsall him­self and Percy Jones (the two guys who were most important in the first place), with new drum­mer Frank Katz perfectly adequate to the task ahead. As for the keyboard layers, they are all being taken care of by means of new technologies — namely, Goodsall's MIDI-guitar.

The result is a very solid record whose fanbase will probably count up to a few hundred people, as it happens with most jazz teams on the planet these days — nothing groundbreaking, just a tasteful and intelligent application of the formula with a few quirky, amusing, and/or memorable nuances. No toying around with dance pop, adult contemporary, stadium rock, or New Age motives — just forty-five minutes of good old fusion where your ear only tells you that we are way past 1976 because of those MIDI guitar tones (hence, occasional flashes of Belew-era King Crimson before your eyes).

Another more modern association might be with Steve Vai, except Goodsall never goes for the gusto with distortion, special effects, or shredding — but he does now occasionally integrate monster heavy riffs into tricky time signatures, alternating them with softer jazzier passages, as it happens on the opening ʽXanax Taxiʼ, where the first half is jackhammered inside your head and the second half lightly tap-dances on the crushed dust of your skull. Also, on the suitably titled ʽChurch Of Hypeʼ he has a few «rock god» flashes where he turns his guitar into a Harley-David­son for a brief while, but, like Vai, there's a reasonable sense of irony there if you can feel it.

More often, though, what makes this album stand out a wee bit above the rest are the little things — for instance, the way Goodsall sustains that intense vibrato on the main theme riff of ʽLiquid Timeʼ; or the little «pseudo-orchestral» interludes on ʽKluzinski Periodʼ (who the heck is Kluzin­ski, I wonder?) where the man's MIDI guitars occasionally break in like a strictly disciplined army of business-meaning cellos, before we go back to «sloppy» free jazz mode; or Percy Jones' predictable, but still-fun-after-all-these-years bass showcase on ʽStrangenessʼ; or all the weird noises on ʽA Duck Explodingʼ (there might be something exploding there, but how can a duck explode for seven minutes?).

Most importantly, there is enough musical diversity in these tracks to make them distinguishable from each other, which, as far as I am concerned, is the key thing in distinguishing good fusion from bad fusion — there's even an acoustic guitar interlude in the middle (ʽHealing Dreamʼ), and none of the pieces are there simply as excuses for jamming. Again, this does not make them great as such, but it does assure you that XCommunication is more than just a «nostalgic comeback»: it is a bona fide attempt to push the Brand X sound into further territory from where it was stan­ding a decade ago. If the results are not overwhelming, it is solely because it is hard to think how they could be overwhelming at this juncture (you don't exactly see, say, John McLaughlin revo­lutionising the world of music circa 1992, and John Goodsall ain't him). Other than that, though, it's all certainly worth a thumbs up, for the fans at least.

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