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Brian Auger - Closer To It! (as Oblivion Express) CD (album) cover

CLOSER TO IT! (AS OBLIVION EXPRESS)

Brian Auger

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Looking over his history, one would surmise that Brian Auger was never satisfied, forever searching for the perfect combination of musicians to surround himself with. Therefore, complete band overhauls were not out of the ordinary. After finding a suitable niche in a more contemporary corner of the jazz rock/fusion world with "Second Wind" the previous year, the new Oblivion Express lineup recorded and released the more Latin-tinged (and aptly titled) "Closer to It!" Gone were vocalist Alex Ligertwood, guitarist Jim Mullen and the extremely talented Robbie McIntosh on drums. In their place were Jack Mills on guitar, Lennox Laington on congas and Godfrey MacLean on drums with Brian taking over the microphone once again. Longtime bassist Barry Dean was the only survivor. Auger was still bravely trying to take his music into new territories and the result is one of his most enjoyable albums.

Santana's incredible "Caravanserai" LP had sent serious shock waves reverberating through the fusion world and Brian, no doubt, was captivated by its spell. Therefore, the conga-laden, "traveling" feel of the intro to "Whenever You're Ready" pays unashamed homage to that spectacular group of California musicians while laying the foundation for the rest of the album. After experimenting with R&B screamer Ligertwood on the previous LP (with mixed results) it seems that Auger took a more relaxed attitude towards his own limited singing chops and decided his tone would work just fine if they buried the vocal down in the mix a tad. The approach works and it turns out to not be much of a detriment at all. His Hammond sound on this number is brisk and fresh and it becomes evident that this style of music fits Brian quite well.

The smooth, irresistible dance groove of "Happiness is Just Around the Bend" delineates what is probably Auger's best composition ever. Notwithstanding that Brian had never been one to utilize the electric piano all that much, the instrument makes this song memorable and you'll even detect the sound of a Moog synthesizer flitting about. Brian was most definitely expanding his keyboard horizons here and the infectious energy he injects into his piano ride makes this cut a real treat to hear. "Light on the Path" exudes more of the obvious Santana influence on the band's approach as they create a moody, hypnotic drive on this instrumental. Auger is his usual masterful self on the Hammond organ but it's quite evident that Mills is no Carlos Santana on guitar.

Several years earlier a friend of mine had introduced me to the many charms of the sublime "Swiss Movement," a 1969 jazz album recorded live at Montreux featuring Eddie Harris and Les McCann. The entire recording's spontaneous energy is amazing but the tune that makes the biggest impression is the sarcastic "Compared to What." One of Brian's greatest contributions to the prog music world is that he introduced millions of rock & rollers to the contributions of modern jazz writers like Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin and here he does the same with McCann's great tongue-in-cheek number. The real attraction of this song lies in its unorthodox, ascending chord progression and Oblivion Express does it justice from beginning to end. Jack's meek guitar ride is passable but Brian's Hammond streaks across the track like a blazing comet. Don't miss this one.

You gotta have big ones to take on Marvin Gaye's monumental "Inner City Blues" but they do achieve a tight, rhythmic groove to flow underneath even if Auger's "Anglo-Saxon" vocal performance is a little too white bread if you know what I mean and I think you do. But his cool organ solo layered over some tasteful Mellotron scores points in the song's favor. They end with the rather nondescript "Voices of Other Times" that, while it rambles a bit, stays true to the percussion-oriented vibe that characterizes the whole album. I've always wondered why Brian never recruited a true guitar virtuoso into any of his band incarnations but perhaps it's because he didn't want to sound like 95% of the guitar-heavy groups out there. Here Mills does his hardest to emulate Carlos Santana but they keep him so far down in the mix that it's impossible to tell if he succeeds. Probably not.

All in all, this version of Oblivion Express may be my favorite. Though Auger shows signs of mellowing and his most explosive organ solos show up on his earlier LPs, I've always enjoyed the excitement that percussion adds to jazz rock/fusion and it certainly sets this album apart from his others. In terms of consistency, "Closer to It" and the band's self-titled debut are arguably the highest quality recordings Brian ever made. 4.2 stars.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#150528)
Posted Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!!

After the solid reconsidering of their musical direction after the disputable Better Land, You'd have thought that our favourite Ogre would've been pleased with the much better (and aptly-titled) Second Wind, Brian surprises everyone by getting rid of almost everyone on his band bar bassist Dean. Gone are Mullen, McIntosh and new-coming Litgerwood (which IMHO was always irksome with his high- perched voice) and in is the percussive duo of Lennox Laington and Godfrey McLean, while unknown ills ruffles the strings. While this album has come out under three different artwork (including the luggage photo), the blue and silver train (on wheels!!) artwork is the one to remember and it would represent the band's logo for the few years to come.

Clearly the percussive ideas emanating from the group Santana were making inroads within a few English groups: first Traffic with Low Spark and Kwaaku Reebop's arrival and now BA'sOE with Lennox. This changed the Express' sound immediately to a more Latin feel, often referring to Santana's absolute masterpiece Caravanserai. Right from the moment the needle lands on the wax, you get your congaskin slapped a few times, telling us that indeed changes are just around the bend. With Brian resuming vocals (and never so well than on this album, if I may so say, Brian) although it was wisely buried in the final mix, Whenever You're Ready is a slow funky starter, but Brian's incredible crescendo on the organ builds the track to pure heaven that the lyrics (never Brian's strength either) don't seem to matter and Auger raises the tension by saturating a tad more his organ when needed between verses, dropping it during them. Masterful. The following Happiness is a long semi-funky groove that wears its name quite well, because the positive nature of the music is really bringing Happiness Around The Bend, especially the great Laington congas rolls up and down your speakers and Brian's electric piano finger running up and down the scales of your skin. Light On The Path is returning to a more Santana-esque spirit right from the delicious intro, and if Brian does Rollie excellently, Mills pulls in a credible (but no-more) Carlos, but nevertheless the track is a standout on an album loaded with them. Brian opens the flipside with a reprise of McCann's sardonic Compared To What, which is deceptively simple at first, but when deciphering the ever-increasing tension... Ever heard Brian play the mellotron? Jump on the Inner City Blues train (that right, the Gaye one) and hear him toy gently away at it. You can imagine that such a slow response instrument as the mellotron wouldn't be very suited to our favourite Ogre's furious playing and rapid-fire fingers. Well, I've no recollection of Brian ever using it again, but here his mellotron layers are very considerate and bring depth. The closing Voices Of Other Times track is again in the Santana realm, but Brian's vocals seem to point out to an era that has yet to come for Carlos' gang. If it were not for Brian's Hammond, you'd probably think of Santana's Amigos album from 76, with Mills failing to convince us, but was it not lost in advance??

Although a rather short album, Closer To It can be considered Brian's Closest To IT, because of the infinitely positive vibes exuding from this album. Easily Brian's top album, he still plays a mot f tracks from this album in concerts three decades later. In some ways, Brian's second Oblivion Express hit the summit on the first try, but itwould be downhill from now on.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#159955)
Posted Sunday, January 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Brian Auger changed his band's line-up again. But most important, he changed his music. Under heavy influence of Santana's Caravanserai, Brian Auger recorded album full of Latin fusion.

For good and for bad. I loved Auger's some earlier works with Trinity/Julie Driscoll and some early Oblivion Express heavy-organ based albums.

This one is different thing. Very professional in technique and up to time in moment of release, it contains excellent Latin fusion. The problem for me is it sounds more as back-up band in many moments. It will be almost impossible to differ this music from Santana's backing band of same time. But Santana has his excellent guitar and almost always vocal, which both are main soloing accents. In case of Auger most of the time we hear just great backing band without accents at all. Even in some songs with vocal Auger's voice there isn't enough to fill music till balanced point. Brian trying to fill music with his organ (instead of guitar as in Santana), but much lighter keyboard sound than usual for him can't do it properly.

So, in fact when listening album you hear good music, but step by step start to feel that something is missed in it. And in time compositions become too similar even if played perfectly. Still good album, for me it is placed a bit lower than Auger's best works.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#254843)
Posted Tuesday, December 08, 2009 | Review Permalink

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