During the 70’s and early 80’s a new if not flamboyant attitude surfaced towards the role of the electric bass. A true renaissance spirit ensued when future bass gods such as Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke burst upon the flourishing fusion scene as they prominently expanded the role of the electric bass in fusion and to some extent straight-ahead jazz. Yet, many will attest that there is arguably no finer fretless bassist than the great if somewhat legendary Percy Jones who humbly made his mark while performing with a then serious drummer named Phil Collins in the fantastic 70’’s and still going strong, prog/fusion band - “Brand X”.
While Mr. Jones is certainly one of the finest electric bassists the music world has ever witnessed and placing technique to the side for a moment, Jones has conspicuously carved out a signature sound and style, which is clearly his own! Now that we’ve clarified that point – many of us will rejoice with the reissue of this recording originally released in 1993 titled, Tunnels with Percy Jones. What may seem to some as an offshoot “Brand X” project, the X-boys have reshuffled personnel over the years and we may add that Phil Collins has long since departed, while “Tunnels” is a band who stylistically epitomize the best of an oft misunderstood genre. Here, along with the current rhythm section of “Brand X”, consisting of midi vibraphonist Marc Wagnon, powerhouse drummer Frank Katz along with multi-talented guitarist Van Manakas perform a mini clinic on the finer points of prog-fusion, while exhibiting flair and precision.
The band come at you like a crazed rhino with Jones’ furious thumping bass lines and Katz’ monstrous power drumming on the opening piece titled, “Inseminator”. The composition, “Tunnels” features strong doses of thematic development, contrasting and somewhat ethereal interludes. On “Maxwell’s Demon”, midi-vibraphonist Marc Wagnon puts matters into turbo-mode as this piece evolves into slick jazz motif followed by blazing soloing by Manakas. “Bad American Dream part 24” is a complex sixteen minute opus as Percy Jones makes his fretless bass talk, whine and cry. Frank Katz is relentless behind the kit, yet doesn’t get lost in a clouded barrage of pyrotechnics as the tight unified rhythmic development is disciplined and focused while serving as the backbone for Van Manakas’ lead statements. Here and throughout, Wagnon works inside the rhythms yet multitasks as a soloist. With “Barrio” the band throw caution to the wind, via Katz’ odd metered funk-backbeat, Wagnon’s atmospheric electronic treatments along with wild and gutsy ensemble work as this band will most assuredly keep listeners on the edge......Again, Jones performs seemingly impossible lines as the rhythm section could parallel a thunderous herd, with tons of impact and audacity while Wagnon is on fire behind the vibes! The final track, “Improvisation” was recorded live at New York City’s renowned Knitting Factory.
Besides all the technical prowess, “Tunnels” aim to entertain through thoughtful and quite inspiring compositions. This is not about a band who systemically attempt to outdo one another in the chops department yet it is all about getting the most out of their musical gifts and weaving their collective sensibilities into a unified whole! While the intensity level frequently resides in the red zone, this band strive to entertain and/or induce the listener’s involvement; hence, advocates of fusion and progressive rock should be elated that “BuckyBall Records” decided to release this gem. Highly Recommended! * * * * ½
Percy Jones; Bass: Marc Wagnon; Midi-Vibes: Frank Katz; Drums: Van Manakas; Guitar.
*See January AAJ review of the new Tunnels release, titledPainted Rockand Allen Huotari
I love jazz because next to my kids, it's the love of my life.
I was first exposed to jazz by Joe Rico from a tiny station in Niagara Falls in 1954 when I was 13.
The best show I ever attended was Maynard Ferguson who blew the roof off Massey Hall in the late 50s.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to everything you can and then listen again.