Brian Auger's Oblivion Express

Tuesday, April 13; Generations

Apr 7, 2004 at 4:00 am
Like the hedgehog in the Greek allegory famously cited by essayist Isaiah Berlin, Brian Auger knows one big thing -- specifically, the Hammond B3 organ. Auger, now 64, got his start in London's fertile jazz and blues scene of the mid-'60s, where his sidemen included such future luminaries as guitarists John McLaughlin and Jimmy Page and vocalists Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart. He first gained fame teaming with singer Julie Driscoll on a series of recordings exploring the intersection of torch-song jazz, blues and psychedelia, scoring a U.K. hit with a cover of the Bob Dylan-Rick Danko tune "This Wheel's on Fire" months before the release of Music from Big Pink.

After Driscoll split, Auger formed Oblivion Express and turned out a series of albums that even without hit singles still received extensive FM airplay in the United States and helped him become a popular touring act during the '70s. Filled with funky grooves driven by lightning-fast organ solos and spiced with Latin percussion, the Oblivion Express' records nicely filled the then-commercially viable niche between the Latin rock of Santana and the more outré jazz-funk of Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters.

Though his U.S. profile waned during the '80s, Auger continued to record and perform in Europe and later teamed with vocalist Eric Burdon for a series of tours. By the mid-'90s, with the Hammond sound once again in vogue, smooth jazz and neo-soul on the rise and hip-hop and "acid jazz" producers rediscovering his '70s work, Auger was ready, regaining control of his old master recordings and forming a new version of the Oblivion Express including his son Karma on drums and his daughter Savannah on vocals. Though his recent CDs have been uneven, Auger still has few peers on the B3, and the chance to see him cut loose on his vintage Hammond in an intimate club setting should be savored by fans of jazz, funk and virtuoso musicianship.