|By Craig Harris|
Special to Reminder Publications
Brian Auger and the Oblivion Express Fairfield Theater, 70 Sanford Street, Fairfield, CT. June 2- $32.
For further information, call 203-259-1036
The "Godfather of Acid Jazz," Brian Auger has been creating innovative music for more than half a century. One of the first jazz musicians in England to embrace rock and R&B, Auger brought maturity, imagination and highly skilled musicianship to the British Invasion of the 1960s. He played harpsichord on the Yardbirds' 1965 hit, "For Your Love" and was a band-mate of Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry and Julie Driscoll, playing organ in the seminal blues-rock band, Steampacket, in the mid-1960s.
With his first group, as a bandleader, the Brian Auger Trio, he became one of London's top jazz pianists, placing first in the categories of "New Star" and "Jazz Piano" in a readers' poll conducted by British music magazine, "Melody Maker", in 1964. His most important musical statements, though, came after switching to the Hammond B-3 organ and widening his musical scope.
His jazz-rock band, Brian Auger and the Trinity, featuring Driscoll's vocals, was one of the most musical adventurous British bands of the late-60s, scoring a number one hit with a psychedelic-ized treatment of Bob Dylan's "This Wheel's On Fire". He's continued to explore new musical ground as leader, except for seven years in the 1990s when he co-led a band with Eric Burdon of the Animals, of Brian Auger and the Oblivion Express since 1970.
The latest version of the Oblivion Express, performing at the Fairfield Theater in Fairfield, Conn. on June 2, is a true family affair. Auger's son, Karma Auger, plays drums and his youngest daughter, Savannah Grace Auger, sings lead. "I think it's the strongest the Oblivion Express has ever been," said Auger by telephone. "I don't just say that because my kids are in it. I say it because they can really do it."
Auger's son, with whom he' first played in the Burdon/Auger Band in 1990, continues to play an increasingly active role in his music. "He not only plays drums," Auger said, "but, he engineered and produced the new album ("Looking In The Eye Of The World"). He's a great pro-tools engineer. He knows exactly what the music should be doing and the best way to get everything out of it."
A member of the Oblivion Express in 1997 since 1999, four years after her father and brother re-instituted the group, Savannah Grace Auger inherited her vocalist post from her older sister, Ali, who left to pursue a solo career. "(Ali) doesn't like the road," her father said, "and she's more of a jazz singer. She has her own album coming out and it's all standards. She's crazy about Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson and Aretha Franklin."
The Oblivion Express' latest album is Auger's twentieth as a bandleader. A mix of danceable, jazz-meets-rock, grooves, it ranks among his best work. While his compositional skills are showcased with such pieces as "Freddie's Flight", written for jazz trumpet player Freddie Hubbard, his love of jazz is further declared in a reworking of Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly". His versatility is reflected by jazz-rock interpretations of tunes by Donovan ("Season Of The Witch"), the Doors ("Light My Fire") and Marvin Gaye ("Troubleman").
The re-recording of "Season Of The Witch", which had been previously featured on Brian Auger and The Trinity's 1967 debut album, "Open", was suggested by Auger's daughter. "Since Savannah came into the band," Auger said, "we've been able to do some of the Trinity stuff. It goes over very well with everybody."
Propelled by Savannah's jazz-like phrasing, "Season Of The Witch" continues to evolve. "I was doing a solo in the middle of the tune," recalled Auger, "and suddenly slipped into John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps'. We thought that we'd keep it in. Whoever's actually listening gets the message."
Previously recorded on the Trinity's 1969 album, 'Streetnoise', "Light My Fire" owes more to Jose Feliciano's Latin-tinged version than to the original recording by the Doors. "I was never a big fan of the Doors," Auger said. "I don't think they had the kind of groove that I like. It wasn't until I heard Jose Feliciano do it that I suddenly went, 'Wow! That's a great tune.'"
Living on the West Coast since 1979, and currently residing in Venice, California, near Los Angeles, Auger has no plans for settling into quiet home life. "We're about to leave on a U.S. tour," he said, "and we'll be going all the way across from here to New York and up and down the East Coast. We're going to be playing in the Midwest. Then, I'll be touring with Billy Cobham. I played on his album this year. We'll be doing some Italian dates in July and some festivals. We're booking a West Coast tour for October and, in November, we'll be in Europe again. In January, next year, we'll be going to Japan again. It's a pretty full schedule. But, I haven't been able to cure myself of wanting to play live."