Brian Auger´s Oblivion Express – Live At Winterland (1975)

FrontCover1.jpgBrian Auger has always demonstrated a rare devotion and dedication toward developing new musical forms. Equally comfortable with pop, R&B, and jazz, Auger was a founding member of the group, Steampacket, which helped launch the careers of singers Long John Baldry, Julie Driscoll, and Rod Stewart. Partnering with Julie Driscoll, Auger formed the Trinity, which recorded some of the most intriguing albums of the late 1960s, achieving international recognition for their cover of Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire” in 1968. Straddling jazz, rhythm & blues, folk, gospel and pop in equal measure, the Trinity albums refused to be categorized. Auger’s intention was to overlay soulful pop rhythms with jazz harmonies and solos and his late-1960s recordings exemplify this unique approach. Following the demise of the Trinity, he formed Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express at the dawn of the 1970s, another genre-defying group that would gain him much wider recognition, eventually entering the jazz, pop and R&B charts simultaneously. The Oblivion Express created high energy, jazz-inspired music, with Auger’s high energy Hammond organ style, in the tradition of Jimmy Smith, dominating the proceedings.

This performance, recorded at San Francisco’s Winterland, when Auger’s Oblivion Express opened for Fleetwood Mac, captures the band during a particularly interesting time and with its quintessential lineup. The band’s album Reinforcements had just been released and their stage repertoire here includes two fresh new band originals from that album, as well as three of the most impressive jazz-inflected covers from their earlier releases.

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Following Auger’s high-spirited introduction of the band members, they launch headfirst into the leadoff track from the new album with “Brain Damage.” A collaboration written by vocalist/guitarist Alex Ligertwood (who would soon be recruited as lead vocalist for Santana) and lead guitarist Jack Mills, this is an explosive opening number that explores a diverse range of influences resulting in a progressive jazz/rock fusion sound. Auger’s high energy Hammond organ style, in the tradition of Jimmy Smith, is exemplary, and the musicians maintain a tight, cohesive blend on the extended improvisations held togethre by percussionists David Dowle (who would later go on to record four early albums with Whitesnake) and Lennox Laington.

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Venturing back to material from the Second Wind album, they next deliver a tight rather economical performance of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” before again stretching out on Wes Montgomery’s classic, “Bumpin’ On Sunset.” Here, the group establishes a relaxed, but nonetheless infectious groove, featuring Auger’s superb, yet never over-bearing technical abilities and the entire band reaching inspired heights. Like the best jazz bands, the Oblivion Express plays with deep feeling and a cohesiveness that is a rarity among rock bands of the mid-1970s.

They next return to the Reinforcements material for a crack at Clive Chaman’s “Foolish Girl.” A recruit from the Jeff Beck Group, Chaman is an outstanding and creative bass player and this composition ventures into the funk territory that would be explored by groups like the Average White Band and countless others as the decade progressed.

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The set concludes with a foot-stomping, full blown funky jazz blowout on a cover of Les McCann’s “Compared To What.” The original version of the song is a powerful example of black pop and soul that wasn’t afraid to address political issues; in this case the Vietnam War, and it is no less powerful in the hands of the Oblivion Express. Although lyrically the song is clearly dated to the late-1960s, Auger’s bluesy Hammond organ licks have a timeless appeal and he and the group’s offbeat humor are apparent throughout.

All through this performance, Auger’s technique is jaw-dropping and the amount of energy he and the group generates is unparalleled and relentless. The broad-minded musical attitude and skill of these musicians is never less than impressive and they manage to bridge the gap between rock and jazz-fusion in a way that remains inviting, accessible, and musically compelling. (wolfgangs.com)

Recorded live at the Winterland (San Francisco, CA), Nov 29, 1975
Excellent soundboard recording

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Personnel:
Brian Auger (organ, vocals)
Clive Chaman (bass)
David Dowle (drums)
Lennox Laington (percussion)
Alex Ligertwood (vocals, guitar, percussion)
Jack Mills (guitar)

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Tracklist:
01. Introduction / Brain Damage (Ligertwood/Mills) 15.56
02. Freedom Jazz Dance  (Harris) 5.59
03. Bumpin’ On Sunset (Montgomery) 14.45
04. Foolish Girl (haman) 8.26
05. Compared To What (McDaniels) 12.28

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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express (feat. Alex Ligertwood) – Live in Los Angeles (2015)

FrontCover1.jpg2015 live Oblivion Express album – featuring the dream team of Brian’s utterly unique, exuberant and uplifting playing alongside Alex Ligertwood’s stratospheric singing. Many years have passed since their first collaborations – both their respective talents remain utterly undiminished. The highlights of this new collection are almost too numerous to list, but the opener Freedom Jazz Dance still has that edgy, dark feel that has thrilled Brian Auger fans since the early 1970’s, when they took the Eddie Harris original instrumental version and injecting it with a vital and progressive new groove, adding incisive lyrics and Brian’s astounding organ solo that still stands today as a goose bump inducing ride, and the high standard many keyboard players still aim to achieve. In contrast, Happiness Is Just Round The Bend continues to be the joyous, life affirming funky, soul jazz outing that cannot but help lift ones spirit. Of course, The Main Ingredient had a bigger commercial success with their cover version, but to quote Dobie Gray ‘the originals are still the greatest!’

Absolutely amazing that Auger (74 when this was recorded in 2013) and Ligertwood (67 at the time) still have such undiminished chops at this stage of life. They nail the groove with every tune on this two CD set. Auger is still one of the few the reigning champions of the Hammond B-3 and I defy anyone to show me a vocalist that sounds as good as Ligertwood does now as he did in 1972. His range and phrasing is still phenomenal and while considered an acquired taste by some, there is no denying his energy and passion.

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I’ve seen them both several times over the last 40 years and this set sounds as good as any of the times I’ve seen either of them play. I got to see and speak at length with Ligertwood a few times when he was performing at a small supper club on Ventura Blvd in the L.A. area in the early 2000’s and he was gracious and charmingly candid as we discussed his career beginning with Troc (a French band with drummer André Ceccarelli from the early 70’s), Oblivion Express, David Sancious (True Stories, released in 1978 – sadly out of print on CD but hire Pinkerton’s to find a copy for you, it’s an amazing recording as well) and Santana. Auger was equally charming the one time I got to converse with him about his career as well. They’re both class acts and I can’t imagine a fan of either of these two underappreciated giants being disappointed with this purchase. Highly recommended. (by Dave Hoeltje)

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Personnel:
Brian Auger (keyboards)
Karma Auger (drums, background vocals)
Les King (bass)
Yarone Levy (guitar)
Alex Ligertwood (vocals, guitar, percussion)

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Tracklist:

CD 1:
01. Freedom Jazz Dance (Harris/Auger/Ligertwood) 7.38
02. Happiness Is Just Around The Bend (Auger) 6.53
03. Straight Ahead (Dean) 6.26
04. Bumpin’ On Sunset (Montgomery)  11.25
05. Inner City Blues (Gaye(Nyx) 6.08
06. Whenever You’re Ready (Dean) 7.47

CD 2:
01. Truth (Ligertwood) 7.53
02. Don’t Look Away, Look Around (Ligertwood/Dean/Mullen) 8.21
03. Second Wind (Auger) 5.07
04. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know (Kooper) 7.30
05. Future Pilot (Auger) 7.26
06. Compared To What (McDaniels) 11.54
07. Brain Damage (Ligertwood/Mills) 8.02

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I love to lie and lie to love
A-Hangin’ on, we push and shove
Possession is the motivation
that is hangin’ up the God-damn nation
Looks like we always end up in a rut (everybody now!)
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what? C’mon baby!

Slaughterhouse is killin’ hogs
Twisted children killin’ frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin’ logs
Tired old lady kissin’ dogs
I hate the human love of that stinking mutt (I can’t use it!)
Try to make it real — compared to what? C’mon baby now!

The President, he’s got his war
Folks don’t know just what it’s for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
We’re chicken-feathers, all without one gut. God damn it!
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what? (Sock it to me)

Church on Sunday, sleep and nod
Tryin’ to duck the wrath of God
Preacher’s fillin’ us with fright
They all tryin’ to teach us what they think is right
They really got to be some kind of nut (I can’t use it!)
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what?

Where’s that bee and where’s that honey?
Where’s my God and where’s my money?
Unreal values, crass distortion
Unwed mothers need abortion
Kind of brings to mind ol’ young King Tut (He did it now)
Tried to make it real — compared to what?!

Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what?

 

Brian Auger´s Oblivion Express – Same (1971)

FrontCover1.jpgAfter the last throes of Trinity, Brian decided to form a new band from scratch and allow for more instrumental space in his music. And what a departure this was from the Trinity days. Here the music took a more severe turn away from his previous sound while remaining accessible, but being much more energetic as well and combined jazz and rock even further. With Dean and McIntosh as a solid rhythm section, Brian had to look for a guitarist that wouldn’t be tempted to overdo his own antics on the keyboards and eventually he chose Jim Mullen. With the artwork depicting our favourite Ogre unleashing his Oblivion Express out of his chest and straight into your face and ears, it’s easy to see that Brian is the boss with the majority of the compositions to his name. It wouldn’t be the case every time as the following Better Land (but much poorer album) is mostly penned by Mullen.

Opening on the fantastic McLaughlin’s Dragon Song, Brian’s crew is out for your throat and eardrums tight from the starting blocks, with Brian unleashing all hell from his Hammond, while Mullen backs him up quite complementarily. On the 11-mins+ Total Eclipse, however, I find that they over-stretched a bit too much the track duration: the rhythm section finds the groove almost instantly and go on to maintain for the full duration, allowing lengthy solos from Mullen and Auger. At the start of the track, Auger changes from piano to organ to electric piano, but later seem unfortunately to get his finger stuck on his Hammond. The hard-driving jazz-rock The Light gives us a chance to hear Brian’s voice, which is apt, but he’s strongly helped out by Dean and Mullen in the chorus. The track strolls on 100 MPH on the Hammond Express before fading out electronically a bit too early only to come back and add further electronics death throes.

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On the flipside, Brian shows his vocal limits (and lyrical ideas all the same) with the up-tempoed On The Road, Mullen’s guitar sizzling in its middle section with our Ogre’s organ covering him from all sides. Another up-tempoed Sword has some Purple accents, especially coming from Lord’s many chord changes rather than Blackmore’s metallic riffs, Mullen’s play remaining less chunky (thankfully) than Ritchie’s. This leaves us with the anthemic eponymous track, where Brian shows that, vocals excepted, he feared nothing from crunchier guitar-lead groups. Again very much in the line of what Jon Lord would do, Brian changes chords constantly, allowing Mullen boulevards to expand and exploding his organ into saturation and leaving you the fan to lift the needle back onto that slice of wax.

Certainly one of the better hard Hammond-driven rock albums coming out of the early 70’s from England, BA’s OE is a 100 MPH album that gives no rest, bar in the longer groove of Total Eclipse. Indeed Brian’s train is one jazzier than Jon Lord’s Purple tram, but than again the tram would show more regularity in the long run and gather much more success. Definitely very close to a five star, but not quite partly because of their main weakness, the vocals. (by Seane Trane)

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Personnel:
Brian Auger (keyboards, vocals)
Barry Dean (bass, background vocals)
Robbie McIntosh (drums)
Jim Mullen (guitar, background vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Dragon Song (McLaughlin) 4.30
02. Total Eclipse (Ball) 11.38
03. The Light (Auger) 4.24
04. On The Road (Auger/Mullen) 5.25
05. The Sword (Auger) 6.36
06. Oblivion Express (Auger) 7.45

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