May 2005

Brian Auger's Oblivion Express Jake Langley/Joey DeFrancesco Trio
May 14, 2005 • The Mod Club • Toronto
Judging from snatches of overheard conversations and the vinyl recording of Brian Auger with Julie Driscoll tucked under the arm of the man in front of me, it seemed that this was more a Brian Auger crowd than a Joey crowd. Joey and Brian, quite a combo. Huge in their seemingly separate domains. But boundaries don’t sit well with either of these players.

Brian, widely referred to as a British jazz-rock organist has collaborated with such blues and rock figures as Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll and Eric Burdon. In '68, Brian Auger and the Trinity was the first jazz fusion group to top the bill at the Montreux and Berlin Jazz Festivals. Joey comes out of a musical Philadelphia family, an American jazz tradition. A virtuosic and imaginative player, legend has it that he learned Jimmy Smith’s "The Sermon" at the age of five. Fresh out of high school he toured with Miles Davis. He plays his instrument with a vintage sound but has incorporated hard bop, blues, soul-jazz and modal stylings into his mix. Among other musical connections, both Brian and Joey have played with John McLaughlin and Jimmy Smith has held the position of idol and mentor to both of them.

The Mod Club — the profiles of two women’s heads painted on the wall in black and white op-art style, the only colours on the wall the red, white and blue of the British flag motif earrings. The 60s, Britain, Carnaby Street. What a fitting venue for Brian Auger who rose to prominence in the Mod years.

On the left side of the stage sits Brian’s sparkly silver B3. A Korg electronic keyboard with a matching finish sits atop it, adding another level to the two 61 note keyboards of the Hammond. On the right, sits Joey’s B3 with its warm wood finish.

The first half of the show belongs to Brian Auger and Oblivion Express. The group’s current members are Derek Frank on bass, Brian’s daughter Savannah Grace Auger on vocals and his son Karma D. Auger on drums. Karma is also the band’s producer and tour manager. They start the night with “Tell the Truth”, move into sax player Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Dance”, and from there to the title track from “Straight Ahead”.

Introducing the fourth piece of the evening Brian tells the audience he is reaching deep into recording history for an album released just after Julius Cesar invaded the British Isles. It reached the top of the charts across the Roman Empire and went terra cotta. It’s the atmospheric “Season of the Witch”. Savannah sings it “When I look out my window so many different people to be…You’ve got to pick up every stich”, I love the way she enunciates stitch.

Brian Auger

Jake Langley
In the next number, "Indian Rope Man", Savannah calls 1, 2, 3, 4 before the solos, on the last one (“o.k. Dad,” she directs) Brian runs off for 25 bars. José Feliciano’s “Light My Fire” showcases Savannah’s voice. I flash back to Grace Slick and “White Rabbit”. It’s the period. London to San Francisco.

Next up, some groovin’ soul-jazz from 1970 with Eddie Harris and Les McCann’s “Make it Real, compared to what?” Brian offers “maybe compared to south of the border, you’re still trying”. If you don’t know them, look up the words and figure it out. A great tune, they lay down an unswerving groove and build on it, a train chugging along, climbing the hill — freedom train, peace train? Brian lays into both organs. I’ve noticed he likes to end tunes building to a glissando on the B3 and finishing off with some Korg sounds. The very enthusiastic crowd asks for and gets an encore.

From the 1975 Reinforcements album, it’s “Brain Damage” ('brain damaged' being Cockney slang for 'really far out' back in the day). Brian tells us Karma was five at the time, Savannah one. He never would have imagined being where he is today with them. He says that now is his happiest period, that although the road can be gruelling, his passion is still playing live to people.

The audience gets a break while the stage is readied for Terry Clarke on drums, Jake Langley on guitar and Joey DeFrancesco. Jake has been playing steadily with Joey for the last 6 months. Leading off the piece, his extraordinary talent is immediately apparent. He is surely poised to become a legendary jazz guitarist. Joey is warming up, smooth and sparing, surveying the audience, sizing them up, getting his bearings. He lets out a sudden burst of intensity. It feels like he’s asking us, how’s that? And chuckling. Then it’s back to Jake, and they trade around with the masterful Terry Clarke.

On the second tune, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” a silently vocalizing Joey digs into the keyboard and truly “plays” his instrument, taking obvious delight in the sounds he creates. Brian Auger arrives on stage and the sharp electronic sound of the Korg joins in. Eager, he leans forward into the keyboards, challenging pyrotechnics blasting forth from B3 and Korg, a contrast to the equally rhythmic and intense but rich mellow-toned organ of Joey. It’s the Double B concert! The relaxed and spontaneous Joey always coiled for action and the effervescent, mercurial Brian.

They followed this up with Wes Montgomery’s composition “OGD” (organ, guitar and drums) or in this case, OOGD. Great work from everyone, drums, guitar and lots of churning, swirling, gurgling sounds from the organs.

Jake asks, “What’s next?”
Brian replies, “I’m getting older you know, what about something slow?” “See See Rider’s" the answer. Joey starts up, r-e-a-l slow and sexy, the smoldering notes of the organ melt and meld, building heat, then suddenly burst into flames. Brian points an admonishing finger at Joey and starts to take him on but Jake comes in with a beautiful bluesy line and continues on with a solo while both Brian and Joey lay down the chords. Then Brian’s off, jaw working as he gets ever more intense. Joey leaps in and both are at it, ostinati, wild crescendos, Brian once again points his shooting finger at Joey, and they laugh.

They launch into the last piece of the evening, Jimmy Smith’s “The Sermon”. This piece undoubtedly has special significance to both players, Joey recorded it with his mentor and friend, the late Jimmy Smith on their CD Legacy. Jimmy was also Brian’s idol and mentor. Jimmy Smith was the high priest of the organ. He is the one who brought the B3 out of the church and into jazz and blues. Brian Auger brought it to rock and fusion fans, both Brits and Americans. Joey DeFrancesco brought it back into the spotlight in the 90s after a period of relative obscurity and is pushing it on.

Joey DeFrancesco
They start it off at a slow-moderate tempo, it’s a cooking piece, but a nimble run down the keyboard demonstrates that Joey can play with lightning speed even on down tempo tunes when he bursts out with a multitude of notes, each one clearly articulated. They seem to tumble out effortlessly, always the right ones, always hitting the spot. Then abruptly, he’ll cut them off in that unique B3 way. A dripping Brian Auger, who I thought was exhausted at this point, pours himself into the piece and gives us his most interesting and inspired playing of the night.

The crowd is ecstatic. We clap and stomp for an encore, our hands are getting sore but we soldier on, people are chanting Jo-ey, Jo-ey, but eventually the lights come up and staff move in to clear out the tables, making dancing room for the crowd gathering outside the club for the next event.

For B-3 fans in the Toronto area, there will be two shows at the Mod Club featuring the instrument during the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, A Tribute to Jimmy Smith with Tony Monaco, Jake Langley and Vito Rezza on June 25th and the Dr.Lonnie Smith Trio on June 26th, both produced in association with the Orbit Room.

We welcome your comments and feedback
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Report by Joyce Corbett
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Photographs by Roger Humbert

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