It’s much harder to keep a flame than you might think.
That flame — that thing you believe in, that you cherish and get really good at sheltering — is something that only the most devoted and dedicated of people understand. You protect it. You nurture it. You feed it.
And, if you’re really lucky, other people come over to ask you about that fire you’ve got that’s burning so brightly.
Brand X — the jazz fusion band formed in England in 1975 with a roster that included a then-Genesis-less Phil Collins — has, over a series of storied and complicated decades of life, carried a torch for the music they make. Just watch the footage of their older performances on YouTube. In those saved fleeting moments you will see a band that is at turns frenetic, searching and humorous. They are timeless and yet so deeply in the moment that any given five minutes of their sound will impart to you a stunning recreation of late nights, strange thoughts and new discoveries that were the hallmarks of the ’70s and ’80s in which those songs were created. Blessed with focus, drive and true belief in their art, its members honed their musicianship ever since
The early days of Brand X were not without their problems. Perplexed music industry reactions to the experimental side of the kind of music it was making. Increased pressure for hits and sales and conformity. Constant lineup changes that are the bane of any band’s thirst for forward momentum. A lack of consistent funding needed to further the members’ collective fortunes. And yet, were it not for that unquenchable passion for the music that Brand X pioneered, none would experience the fruits of decades-long labors in the fields of difficult music.
The band — now made up of founding guitarist John Goodsall, original bassist Percy Jones and drummer Kenny Grohowski as well as new members Chris Clark (keyboards) and Scott Weinberger (percussion) — sprang forth from a golden era in jazz fusion, the leading lights of which — Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine, Weather Report — have attained an almost cult fascination in retrospect. With their latest resurrection, Brand X (named by an Island Records employee as a shorthand scheduling notation that somehow stuck) now embarks on new voyages with a greater commitment to their presence as musicians of the highest caliber. While they haven’t had an album of new material released since 1997’s Manifest Destiny, the renewed attention to their power as a touring band resulted in both 2017’s But Wait… There’s More! and 2018’s Locked & Loaded, live records that serve as further proof that such evidence is necessary if only to prove that they ever could have existed in the first place.
Brand X reformed in 2016, entering a world that after almost 20 years (if the top-40 charts are any indication) places little to no value on the technical proficiency and musical prowess of jazz fusion bands as once it did. Time passes. Tastes change. Audiences move on. And so by virtue of its perpetual virtuosity, Brand X now finds itself presented as the Brand X that was always offered up in old television commercials, an unwanted alternative to the preferred product.
Unwanted, that is, except by those discerning souls who prefer their music to be more challenging than most.
What you will hear at the Canyon tonight is some of the most challenging music performed live anywhere in the world today. “Challenging” is a word that people generally use when they want to describe art that gives them some level of difficulty in describing. Brand X challenges you, even dares you, to listen with open ears and open minds (it sometimes helps to close your eyes while you listen).
This is not because Brand X wishes to create an atmosphere of opposition. Its musicians challenge the audience because they know that their listeners demand more from Brand X. That they can handle a type of music that’s more evolved than most. That they’re actually up to that selfsame challenge that makes the music of Brand X some of the most rewarding art.
Because the listener demands more of him- or herself by actually listening to it.
Brand X appears on Thursday, March 21, at The Canyon, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. Axiom and Diane and the Deductibles open the show at 7 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 888-645-5006 or visit wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com/canyon-agoura-hills.