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Brian Auger's Oblivion Express
 The Best Of..., Polygram CDx2 314 529 496-2, 1996 (66:19) &(79:18)

The best of a seminal fusion band

Every article about Brian Auger begins by recounting how the keyboardist stunned the English jazz community by forming an R&B group after Melody Maker named him Best New Jazz Artist of 1964. The articles then usually go on to describe how the group, The Brian Auger Trinity, charted a few hits ("This Wheel's On Fire," "Season of the Witch") before Auger disbanded it to form the proto-fusion Oblivion Express in 1971. Fortunately, the standards at Jelly are high enough to prevent this kind of journalistic recycling. We head straight for the news, which, in this case, is that Polygram Records has seen fit to release the 2-CD "The Best of Brian Auger's Oblivion Express".

Let's face it. If you don't already own the eight records that Auger recorded with Oblivion Express between 1971 and 1977, they're probably not very high on your wish list. Polygram to the rescue. This collection is just long enough to give a taste of the amazing variety of music that the band produced, but short enough to avoid overwhelming a newcomer with every detail of Auger's prolific output. John McDermott's liner notes are excellent, and at 79 minutes and 18 seconds, disc two is the longest I've ever seen. The sound is decidedly dated, but under that veneer there are some interesting historical treasures to be had.

You'll generally find Oblivion Express filed under fusion, if you happen to be looking in that direction at all. I say let's reserve judgment for a moment and have a listen to the material. Of course, from this vantage point it's difficult to determine what kind of cross-pollination was going on at the time, but I hear as much Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Santana and Billy Preston as I do Herbie Hancock or Weather Report. There's also flat out funk, acid-jazz that with the addition of a rapper wouldn't sound out of place today, and some material that could slip in unaltered on just about any Steely Dan record. Okay, so maybe Auger was fusing jazz and rock elements, but to my ear his work with Oblivion Express sounds like exploration, not simply practice within a genre.

It's also possible to appreciate this collection as a record of one of the most talented organists of the post-Jimmy Smith era. Auger ranks among the best as a technician, his harmonic sensibilities put him in league with Larry Young, and his tone is unmistakably his own. It's a safe bet that these very recordings were carefully scrutinized by keyboardists of the day. We may now see a new body of work emerge, as Auger has recently reformed the band and is touring with a new version of Oblivion Express. This time around, the band includes his "reinforcements," son Karma on drums and daughter Ali on vocals.

If I haven't made it clear, this one's good stuff but not for everyone. Unless you're already a Brian Auger fan (or have reason to suspect you might be one), pick it up on sale. -  Jason Staczek


Brian Auger, keyboards and vocals; Jim Mullen, guitars and vocals; Barry Dean, bass and vocals; Robbie McIntosh, drums and percussion; Alex Ligertwood, vocals.

of related interest

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity,  Streetnoise, Polydor CD 843 399-2, 1969

Driscoll has a fantastic voice. The original two-LP set was very good, and side two, starting with The Doors' "Light My Fire" and ending with "Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)" from Hair was  great. This CD seems to be recently deleted, but you should be able to find a copy, more likely in the Jazz section under "Auger" than the Rock section under "Driscoll."

Weldon Irvine,  Music Is The Key, Luv 'N Haight CD LHCD004

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.