in performance: brand x

Brand X: Chris Clark, Scott Weinberger, Kenny Grohowski, Percy Jones and John Goodsall.

The term Brand X has long been the tag affixed to almost any form of faceless competition, a purposely inferior black sheep entity that all marketable commodities are contrasted to – favorably, one hopes.

Those qualities aren’t totally lost of the band Brand X, which was born at the height of the fusion era with a hearty enough pedigree in prog music to make it an orphan of sorts to the jazz world. It didn’t matter that the ensemble’s founding drummer was Phil Collins, who was just starting to take the reigns of Genesis in the wake of Peter Gabriel’s departure when Brand X recorded its debut album, “Unorthodox Behaviour,” in the fall of 1975. During the five year period that followed, when Brand X recorded all of its key studio albums, the band was an anomaly that earned mostly cultish followings but little lasting respect from the jazz community.

On Thursday evening at Ludlow Garage in Cincinnati, where a reconstituted Brand X made it first regional concert appearance in four decades, it was tough to determine if audiences had fully dialed into its work as the venue boasted more than a few empty seats. The band’s repertoire hasn’t been updated (no compositions post 1980 were played). Neither has its sound, which remained a proudly prog-ish offshoot of fusion. What has changed is the band’s sharpness and agility. With two founding members – guitarist John Goodsall and fretless bassist Percy Jones – manning a crew fleshed out by a trio of younger players (drummer Kenny Grohowski looked to be a full generation removed from the elders), this current Brand X lineup displayed a level of technical precision, physical drive and performance dynamics the older groups, even the ones with Collins, couldn’t match.

Credit much of that the orchestrations of keyboardist Chris Clark, the wildly rubbery sound Jones created on bass and the variety of power chords, sinewy solo lyricism and vibrant musical colors Goodsall continually added to the two set performance. Grohowski and percussionist Scott Weinberger nicely propelled the resulting ensemble sound but also teamed for a brief, boisterous percussive dialogue during the extended, suite-like “The Ghost of Mayfield Lodge.”

In terms of specifics, all of this translated into a blend of interactive playfulness and Latin-esque expression that broadly recalled the music of Chick Corea during “Disco Suicide” and the mad dashes between tropical accents and warp speed melody lines that bolstered “Not Good Enough, See Me.”

But it was during the “Unorthodox Behaviour” favorite “Born Ugly” that all of Brand X’s tricks, new and vintage, coalesced. Jones began the tune with a plump bass line that triggered a mounting funk attack. But half way through, the tune radically shifted course, allowing a recurring keyboard riff by Clark to temper the tune and frame some of Goodsall’s most patient and expressive guitar work of the evening.

Will any of this signal a wider, more generous audience in the future for Brand X? Hard to say. But it was undeniably inspiring to hear such complex, uncompromising and, quite often, uncategorizable music being played by a cross-generational band with even more ingenuity and spirit than when it was first created.




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