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The Pigalle Club, London 28 November 2006

Given the bewildering number of stylistic roles that keyboard player Brian Auger has occupied throughout his enduring musical career, it was in many ways a compromise to pick The Pigalle supper club to mark his return to London.

For while we didn't expect a pulverising set of Acid Jazz, what we got was a slightly MOR jazz laden performance in which Brian's virtuoso playing too often overshadowed his tentative band. Also, sadly for a performer of real passion, the venue did not lend itself easily to the crowd retuning the on-stage intensity in kind.

In fact, the band of die-hard Auger aficionados were left standing at the back of the room behind a semi circle of polite applauding diners.

And yet with a major retrospective reissue programme to plug, plus his current Oblivion Express line-up including family members Savannah on vocals, son Karma on drums and top LA session bass player Doug Shreeve, these are once again good times for Brian.

He seemed genuinely happy to be back, and at the close of a committed performance thanked one and all and made a point of expressing his gratitude to his band, commenting, 'there are no passengers in this Oblivion Express'. And while that may be true this gig did suggests there are still ripples to be smoothed out.

Playing a B3 in itself presents a few conundrums to start with. The instrument's size factor alone means you have to think about where to position yourself on stage and on this occasion Brian got it wrong, finding himself with his back to the audience for most of the night. He compensated for this by standing up and turning 360 degrees to make announcements.

Coupled with vocalist Savannah's limited vocal range and lack of stage presence, there was no other means by which to draw in the crowd to a intimate connection. As a consequence Brian remained something of a stranded pivotal figure all night. And with the majority of arrangements occupying a mid tempo groove it took several inspirational organ solos to finally hit base.

On the audience-requested 'Straight Ahead' for example, the vocal veered towards the MOR style of say Lena Horne or Candi Statton before Brian took the things up a notch with some heavy duty organ explorations.

Early on the band seemed happiest on a rendition of Herbie Hancock's Buddhist inspired 'Butterfly', with Savannah impressing on a number that beautifully brought musical expression to its heartfelt lyrics. Much of the set came from the recently re-issued 'Live Oblivion Volume One' album with the highlight being the cool organ reading of Wes Montgomery's atmospheric 'Bumpin' on Sunset' on which Brian conjured up a sophisticated groove with a mesmerising snake-like Hammond melody that created a psychedelic undertow.

The prophetic lyrics of Eugene McDaniels' 'Compared to What' moved Brian to compare their sentiment with contemporary events, and the band weighed in with a powerful performance on which Savannah gave her best performance all night.

The quartet also gelled thrillingly on 'Brain Damage' which was presaged by Brian's humorous explanation of the origins of the title and both Shreeve and Karma junior stretched out on the unannounced 'Indian Rope Man'. A seemingly impromptu delicate reading of Coltrane's ballad 'Naima' also brought claps of recognition and by the end of the aforementioned 'Compared to What', Brian even had a few diners on the dance floor in a clear case of the triumph of music over environment.

Review by Pete Feenstra

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