Brain Auger and the latest incarnation of Oblivion Express played just six songs in each of their hour-long sets on Sunday, May 5. The modest but appreciative audience was treated to plenty of marvelous solos from both 79-year-old English keyboardist, Auger, and the incredible Australian guitarist, Frank Gambale, a mere stripling at 60.
Earlier versions of Oblivion Express recorded six studio albums from 1971-1975, mining a progressive vein of soul-jazz that also incorporated traces of funk and rock. The current band somehow manages to make all these elements sound relevant and contemporary, even when they’re covering jazz numbers such as Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset,” Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and Gene McDaniels’ “Compared to What.”
The current quintet was filled out by relative youngsters: singer/percussionist, Lilliana de los Reyes; bassist, Andreas Geck, and Karma Auger (yes, he’s Brian’s son) on drums. Anyone who thinks nepotism accounts for Karma’s presence should just listen to him – he’s an excellent drummer who doesn’t overplay, yet made the most of his brief solo-spot during the coda of “Whenever You’re Ready.”
Reyes has a lovely voice and she gained confidence as the evening progressed, stepping out from behind her percussion array, really emoting on a beguiling version of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.” It was first cut by Auger with Julie Driscoll and the Trinity on their 1967 debut Open.
“We were recording on clay tablets at the time,” noted Auger. “This tune was a smash all across the Roman Empire.”
Reyes’ ebullient vocals and the energetic solos from Auger and Gambale were well-suited to the positive messages conveyed by songs such as “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend,” “Straight Ahead,” “Whenever You’re Ready” and “Sundown.” Auger is best-known for a robust Hammond B-3 organ sound, though he also deployed a Korg M3 synthesizer. Gambale was dazzling throughout, with such a clean tone and precise articulation, he demanded attention even when playing rhythm accompaniment behind Auger’s lead on “Compared to What.”
Auger finished this performance by saying “drive carefully because you never know: I might be walking back to the hotel. Thanks again everybody we will see you in the future.” Though he turns eighty on July 18, he’s got a European tour booked for the fall, and shows few signs of slowing down. Mr. Auger, long may you run.