Tuesday 13 November 2012

Phil Collins' 1976 Mistress

"If Genesis were Phil Collins' wife, Brand X is his mistress."


The Jazz-Fusion movement of the 70's is best known for the giants - Mahavishnu, Colloseum, Chick
Corea, Weather Report, extending, towards its boundaries, to include the likes of Jeff Beck and Miles Davis.  Apparently lost in the euphoria was Brand X, perhaps because it was seen - very unfairly - as Phil Collins' side-project.  Here Phil teams up with bassist Percy Jones, Guitarist John Goodsall, and Keyboardist Robin Lumley, and together they lay down what is surely one of the core oevres of the Jazz-Fusion movement, "Unorthodox Behaviour".

At first listen, what comes across is perhaps that unfair assessment that this is a Phil Collins pet project.  Phil's drumming never fails to underpin and propel the music with his familiar cymbal-driven style.  But what emerges after a while is that Collins drumming is truly at the service of the music, punctuating it, propelling it, clarifying it, anchoring it.

The second thing that emerges is "Ooooh, that Bass!".  Percy Jones' fretless meanderings are thoughtful, original, provocative, and oh so tasty.  Also, if your system has really, really, REALLY accurate and deep bass, he plays with a quite extraordinary presence (Bose Wave radio owners need not apply).

Where Collins and Jones provide a kitchen sink with an essentially funk and rhythm oriented core, the third thing that emerges are all the tunes, the melodic structures, and the weird harmonic progressions that seem somehow so natural.  Guitarist Goodsall and keyboardist Lumley counterpoint the rhythmic foundation with melody, fine tonal textures, and no small amount of virtuosity, while avoiding the excesses of self-indulgence that often mar (or sanctify - according to your preference) Jazz-Fusion.

At the end of the day, Unorthodox Behaviour is nobody's vanity project.  It is a fundamentally collaborative affair.  This line-up played at Ronnie Scott's club in London just before Unorthodox Behaviour was released, and I was there.  I bought the album on the day of its release.  To this day, it remains a staple of my collection.  It is playing as I write this.  Percy Jones' opening statement on Nuclear Burn is just an absolute classic ... if you can play this, you've got bass chops!

If you have never heard Unorthodox Behaviour, do yourself a favour - try to find yourself a copy.