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Brian Auger - Open CD (album) cover

OPEN

Brian Auger

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

2.90 | 12 ratings

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3 stars Not an Open and Shut case...

It's quite easy to hear why this album was not a big hit at the time, with the elevator music sound of the opening track - this is the piece that grabs the audience's attention, and unfortunately, grabbing is the one thing it does not immediately do, despite the sawing and cry of 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4...

Initially, this interpretation of the Long John Baldry classic is delivered like a kind of watered-down Booker T (whose influence along with that of Jimmy Smith pervades this album), then, when the octaved guitar of Gary Boyle joins with a simple ostinato, the elevator begins its descent towards oblivion.

The tantalising sounds of Auger's Hammond B3 insinuate their presence, until about a minute and a half into the piece, where Brian unleashes a few of the fireworks he's rightly famous for - stabs and slides based on some of Jimmy Smith's techniques, but much more aggressive.

Isola Natale has much more impact, as the bass is brought higher in the mix, and a heavy groove is settled into immediately. Boyle's insistent octave guitar keeps trying to take us back to the elevator, and some of the sixth and minor seventh-based progressions follow suit, but then launches into some sharp blues licks, making this a somewhat more satisfactory fusion effort. The big event, of course, is the return of Auger's B3, and despite the fact he seems to be going through the motions, there's still a lot of fire being delivered here, and no unnecessary bluster. There's not an awful lot of invention, though, so as the first homespun track on the album, again, impact is lost.

Everything then goes cuckoo for the second self-penned number, Black Cat - quite literally, and a rich, deep, funky groove is delivered with aplomb - exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear in, say, an Austin Powers movie. Groovy, baby, grooooovy. This whole piece is concentrated on the groove, but that is not to say that this is all there is, because there are plenty of delicious little details, and the band rocks like a steam train on a particularly twisty bit of track. It kinda resembles something by Traffic, but much more groovy.

There then follows the delicate jazz-piano piece Lament for Miss Baker - a quite wonderful change of style, and side one is rounded off by Goodbye Jungle Telegraph, which begins with quasi-tribal drums and overblown recorder, which increases in intensity as the groove twists and turns, delivers a round of surprises, and emphatically dances around barefoot, putting me in mind of some of the more experimental Krautrock bands who would appear later in the decade. The wailing sax is pure jazz, but the percussion-driven music, including an incredibly percussive B3, puts me in mind of some of the bongo-backed hippy music that was so popular in psychedelic circles at the time.

If you take this as a percussive piece, it works spectacularly, with nice pathos in the highs, lows and dramatic curves.

Fliping the album over reveals a couple more covers (the first track on side 1 is a Long John Baldry cover), and we kick off with a heavy version of Tramp, originally written but never recorded by Jimmy McCracklin. Instead, Lowell Fulson had a hit with this piece that is well worth checking out, and later, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas ripped the soul out of it with Booker T and the MGs, providing what has proven to be a very samplable backing.

Auger and the band more than do the piece justice, though, fusing rock, soul and jazz into a delightful proto-prog edifice - and here we hear Driscoll for the first time, attempting a kind of Janis Joplin meets Grace Slick style vocal - quite successfully.

The only thing that lets this cover down really is the horn section, which is rather stilted - the Sly and the Family Stone version of this section works a lot better.

This is followed up with another Stax-soul/Blue Note derived number, Pops Staples evergreen Why (Am I Treated so Bad), delivered lugubriously rather than laid back, but still just as enjoyable as the Booker T-backed original (even if it is tricky to determine the difference).

A Kind of Love In is the kind of thing that Auger deserves all the recognition he's recently been getting for - that familiar insistent single note rhythmic ostinato that makes and drives the piece will either get on your nervers in no time, or keep your head bobbing and your foot tapping throughout.

A warped Big Ben chime then introduces the Booker T/Stax influenced Break It Up, which really should be kept a secret from the samplers. Driscoll's vocals sound more assured with this original number, going into Aretha Franklin territory in style, if not spirit. The vocal improvisations intertwine well with the piano, and the fadeout comes all too soon.

The album is wrapped up with yet another cover (it was still common practice for bands to release albums that were only 50% original material in 1967, although many were breaking away from this restrictive tradition) - a version of Donovan's Season of the Witch. Driscoll attempts to vocalise with some of the lines, but these come across as over repetitive.

Just before 3 minutes into the piece, there is a surprising breakdown with some brilliantly delicate and highly expressive B3 playing, demonstrating that Auger was no Smith imitator, but a great interpretor of his style, which is superbly built back into the song over the course of the next two and a half minutes.

When Driscoll's vocals reappear, they feel even more overdone and repetitive, and the piece ends unsatisfactorily - as Easy Money says in his review, it really sounds like Auger is nodding off for this one...

In summary, some real highs and no real cringe moments until Season of the Witch, on an album reasonably light on filler that takes a while to get going. If you're already a fan of the funky Stax sound, then this album could go two ways - you could hate it for the jazz-rock-soul fusion treatment, or you could really dig it.

An interesting document from the cauldron that eventually produced Progressive Rock, which was London's Progressive music scene in the late 1960s - there are better albums by Auger, not least the 1964-67 collection, also with Julie Driscoll.

This album would also be a welcome addition to fans of the Hammond B3 sound, as Auger gets almost unheard of emotion out of the instrument - frequently.

For anyone else, if you can find a cheap copy, it's got some great Austin Powers moments that'll really get your Mojo working baby...

Certif1ed | 3/5 |

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