Brand X: Masques (1978)

This is the album where Phil Collins is completely gone and the band is supposed to become irrelevant. As if that weren’t enough, keyboardist Robin Lumley left for the producer’s chair, and Morris Pert’s old pal in Suntreader, Peter Robinson, replaced him. Now a quintet with as many original members from Brand X (Percy Jones, John Goodsall) as Suntreader, the band could have been expected to crank out mediocre fusion for another album or two before everyone lost interest. Instead, Masques might be the best album the band has ever released; at a minimum, it’s on a par with their debut in terms of memorable melodies and superlative playing. “Black Moon/Deadly Nightshade” and “The Ghost of Mayfield Lodge” are personal favorites of mine from their career and would make my shortlist for a Best of Brand X. Collins’ replacement, Chuck Burgi, had recently been part of Al Di Meola’s live band, and he meshes perfectly with Masques, which finds the band playing more in the RTF/Frank Zappa style of fusion. Robinson, the other new recruit, slips in some neat Soft Machine-styled patterns that recall Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge. He, Pert and Percy Jones write the majority of the material, with John Goodsall contributing only one track, “Access To Data.” It’s not about who writes what, though, but about how well the band plays together. Third albums are often the point where a band hits their stride as a group and, discounting the live Livestock, that’s the case here. The liquid bass lines, percolating percussion, spacey synthesizers, fiery guitarwork and forceful drumming create an exotic musical landscape that represents what’s best about progressive fusion from the 70s. If you enjoyed the albums of RTF, Jean-Luc Ponty and Al Di Meola, more pleasant adventures await you on Masques.

Original LP Version
A1. The Poke (Percy Jones/Peter Robinson) (5:10)
A2. Masques (Percy Jones/Peter Robinson) (3:16)
A3. Black Moon (Morris Pert) (4:48)
A4. Deadly Nightshade (Morris Pert) (11:22)
B1. Earth Dance (Morris Pert) (6:06)
B2. Access To Data (John Goodsall) (8:00)
B3. The Ghost of Mayfield Lodge (Percy Jones) (10:17)

The Players
Chuck Burgi (drums), John Goodsall (guitar), Percy Jones (bass), Morris Pert (percussion, Fender piano on track 3), Peter Robinson (keyboards). Produced by Robin Lumley and engineered by Stephen W. Tayler, both of whom also worked on Bill Bruford’s solo album that year, Feels Good To Me.

The Plastic
Originally released in 1978 on elpee and cassette in the UK (Charisma, CAS-1138), in the US (Passport, PB/PAS-9829), in France (Charisma, 9103 125), in Germany (Charisma, 9124 030) and in Japan (Charisma, RJ-7521); reached #32 on the US Jazz charts. Re-released on CD on June 1989 in the US (Caroline, CAROL 1391-2), in Europe (Virgin, 787117) and in 2003 in the UK (EMI, CASCD-1138). The 1989 Caroline CD sounds pretty lame, so I’d save your money for a later remaster if you’re going the digital route. This was the first Brand X album not designed by Hipgnosis (and it shows), with credits going to Frank (sleeve design), Chris Kutschera (photo), HAG (back) and AD Design (layout design).

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