Brian Auger's Oblivion Express

Happiness Heartaches

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Originally released in 1977, and reissued on CD by Wounded Bird, Happiness Heartaches is a rock solid date by the Oblivion Express. Along with Brian Auger's gigantic musical personality, the set is also driven in equal part by former Miles Davis and Return To Forever drummer Lenny White, as well as percussionist Lennox Laington. Rhythm is the key to groove, and it is displayed here in overdrive. This is "groove jazz" with teeth, and a deeply funky and welcome alternative to the increasing presence of disco drum machines in jazz recordings. And make no mistake, Happiness Heartaches is a jazz record, a claim many of the era's jazzmen who were recording cannot hope to claim, so complete was their cave in to disco's chart influence. "Spice Island," with its languid vocal line and melody, influenced by Airto and Flora to be sure, but also by Leon Thomas' solo recordings, is a case in point. Auger's contrapuntal solo coming as a tag off the vocal and being played foil to by Jack Mills' guitar is simply sublime. On "Gimme A Funky Beat," the band takes the notion of Brazilian Carnaval into overdrive, with a rollicking bassline by Clive Chaman. Alex Ligertwood's vocals leave a bit to be desired, as he is clearly not a jazz singer, but they aren't too irritating. The set ends with a tour de force by Auger entitled "Paging Mr. McCoy," a keyboard orgy propelled by the rhytmnatist's percussion team. It's full of crescendos, stops, starts, and side passages (like a beautiful, sped-up quote from the theme of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme") as well as regal overtones. The only real complaint is a consistent one regarding Wounded Bird's reissues: rather than recasting and re-contextualizing the original cover art, they just shrink it, and there are no liner notes, making for a shoddy little package. Nevertheless, the music's the important thing, so despite the real lack of aesthetics shown by the label visually, this is certainly a welcome addition to the Auger CD catalog.

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