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Brian Auger - Straight Ahead (as Oblivion Express) CD (album) cover


Brian Auger


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.31 | 21 ratings

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3 stars As Brian Auger's Oblivion Express moved into the mid 70s they definitely mellowed from being the brave jazz rock/fusion explorers that had helped pioneer the heavier aspects of that genre and settled into a more serene alcove that emphasized a smoother, less challenging sound. With "Straight Ahead" they could now be called a "lite" contemporary jazz/rock ensemble. Gone were the exciting days when Brian would peel the paint off the walls with his screaming Hammond organ rides while his band would emphatically push the envelope of modern progressive music. But Auger and his cohorts weren't alone. The strange malaise that was taking over the popular airwaves in the sensitive seventies was infecting many of the world's bravest musicians and making them age prematurely, too. And this was even before the dreaded disco fever took over the planet like a plague of blisters.

The album starts with the same mysterious feel that "Closer to It!" from the year before had as conga man Lennox Laington and new drummer Steve Ferrone combine to create an up tempo Latin groove that's promising. But when the music for "Beginning Again" comes in and "Auge" starts singing the momentum retards considerably and never really gets revved back up. Displaying a trend that will personify the entire album, this song quickly turns into nothing more than a long, controlled jam where Auger shows off his acknowledged mastery of the electric piano, interrupted briefly by Jack Mills' lame guitar lead. I'm not saying it's boring exactly (soothing might be a better adjective), but the percussion break at the end is the most interesting segment by far.

Back in 1968 Brian Auger & the Trinity had covered Wes Montgomery's excellent "Bumpin' on Sunset" on their otherwise archaic "Definitely What!" LP and, while it was the best cut on the album by far, it still left a lot to be desired. This 11-minute rendition of that classic instrumental is a vast improvement and the best reason to own this recording. The group gives it a slow, sensual groove to travel in and Brian's unhurried, slinky organ solo is perfect for the fog-shrouded atmosphere they establish. Auger utilizes the Freeman string machine to give the track great depth and texture, as well. Following on its heels is a dated, Stax Records-styled funk ditty by bassist Barry Dean called "Straight Ahead." All I gotta say is that any tune featuring the line "It was a gas!" is doomed to disappoint in my book and this one does just that. Brian valiantly rescues the cut from itself with a passionate electric piano lead that does manage to add a dash of intensity to the proceedings.

Emulating Santana is usually a great compliment. But if that emulation falls into the category of that excellent band's post- "Caravanserai" era then it rings rather hollow and therein lies the problem with the next tune. Laington's "Change" just never takes the listener anywhere fun. Mills attempts to deliver a Carlos Santana-like solo but he lacks the fire to make it sizzle and even though it's nostalgic to hear Auger man the Hammond keyboard once again he never ignites the old flame he used to kindle so easily. The addition of Mirza Al Sharif on timbales is a plus but his contribution is too subtle to make much difference. Another sign that the group was graying is the inclusion of Dean's sappy ballad "You'll Stay in My Heart." Once upon a time it would've been heresy to find a slow number on an Oblivion Express album for good reason. They don't perform them very well at all and this proves it.

There's not much to delight the prog ear on this record. But, if you're looking for something to spin through the changer on a lazy Sunday morning while you peruse the paper and sip on a mug of delicious coffee that won't insult your intelligence, then this is the ticket. The engineering and arrangements are top notch and that's always a good thing, but be advised. There's also no surprises to ruffle your feathers or tickle your fancy and that's rarely a good thing in the jazz rock/fusion world. 2.8 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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