Brian Auger – Rhymes with Blogger

Is he a jazz keyboardist? Is he a rock musician? Is he a r&b player? 
 
Even Brian Auger finds it difficult to put a peg on his particular brand of music.
 
I’ve always held by the Duke Ellington quote, that ‘there are only two kinds of music, good and bad’, he told the ‘get ready to rock’ website. “I’ve never been able to pigeonhole my music, because there are so many elements in it, right through to strong classical influences …..

Long after most of his keyboard-playing peers have either retired or gone to that Great Jukebox in the Sky, Mr. Auger continues to be in demand.  He has either toured, recorded or played on sessions with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Sonny Boy Williamson, to name just a few. (Whew! No wonder the beancounters cannot “pigeonhole” the music.) He even toured with Eric Burdon in the early 90s and recorded a live album with him in 1993.  

Raised in London, he came of age in England’s so-called Swingin’ Sixties. According to Spotify Mr. Auger first began listening to jazz on the American Armed Forces network  and his older brother’s record collection. He studied piano as a youngster. After hearing a Jimmy Smith album at a local record shop, Brian went to a music shop and ordered a Hammond organ according to the musicguy247 website.He began playing in London clubs while still in his teens and still has fond memories of those days: “We’d play Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, a sort of East Coast Bop outfit with a blues edge. We’d play Horace Silver stuff for example, and it was an easy switch to playing R&B ….” 
In 1965 he formed Steampacket with Julie Driscoll, Vic Briggs, John Baldry and a promising newcomer named Rod Stewart. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the original line-up of Steampacket didn’t last long
 
I first became aware of Brian Auger when he formed the group Trinity. With Julie Driscoll on vocals the group had an unexpected hit on the pop charts with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.”
 
auger-julie
 
In 1970 the keyboardist formed Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express. The original line-up included drummer Robbie McIntosh and several other musicians who would later form the Average White Band of “Pick Up the Pieces” fame. I still have an original vinyl copy of Live Oblivion with the group’s classic version of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset.”
auger-live-oblivion
 
Mr. Auger and his family moved to the States in 1975.  (My record company and my agency were here in Los Angeles. I was bouncing up and down the I-5 for quite a long time, so I decided at a certain point that I’d come down here,” he recalled for the musicguy247 website,” Lee Michaels… another organ player, lives in Malibu, said “I’ve got this place for you. Why don’t you, the kids, and everybody, have a look at it and come down here . We eventually ended up transferring to Malibu … Then we decided we liked Venice. It was actually more like the place where I grew up in London. There were people on the street… kids… and stuff going on.” 
 
Oblivion Express was revived in 2005 with Brian, son Karma on drums, daughter Savannah on vocals, and Derek Frank on bass. 
auger-kids
FAMILY PORTRAIT: Karma Auger (top) Brian Auger (middle) and Savannah Grace Auger (bottom right)
In 2014 Brian Auger and Oblivion Express played at the KJAZZ festival in Los Angeles and toured in Japan and Europe with Karma Auger on drums, daughter Ali and Alex Ligertwood (former Oblivion Express and longtime Santana singer) on vocals, Yarone Levy on guitar, Les King on bass and Travis Carlton, Larry Carlton’s son, on bass.

It is difficult (if not impossible) to sum up Mr. Auger’s diverse career in a sentence.  With thirty albums to his name, ten of which charted on Billboard, Grammy nominations and sell-out concerts Mr. Auger has nothing left to prove and new horizons in music to explore.(He recently recorded with Latin rockers El Chicano and toured with Italian superstar Zucchero)

Whatever the style of music, the improvisation he first experienced in jazz plays a key role in his ongoing creativity. As he tells hit-channel.com, “It’s always important. It’s absolutely important. The reason I keep as much room for solos is because improvisation is where everything grows, all new ideas.” 

 
To hear some of Brian Auger’s music  click on the link below for a two-part podcast saluting Mr. Auger’s artistry over the decades:

Rix Flix: Nice Guys, Injuns, Alice, Suicide and all that Jazz

Suicide Squad

If this is intended as an antidote to all those superhero flicks, count me in. Otherwise, well. my inner twelve year old enjoys watching Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

blog-harley
Batter UP!

The Nice Guys

blog-nice-guys

Writer/director Shane Black’s follow-up to his cult film hit Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn’t nearly as clever or original as his 2005 hit but stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe seemed to have a lot of fun making it. 

446_trail_hollywood_indian_reel_injun_dvd_alt2_1024x1024
No, it’s not the singer Neil Diamond

This film isn’t a current release (I signed  out the DVD at the local library) but it does make for provocative and insightful viewing – regardless of your ethnicity or whether you played cowboys’n’indians as an adolescent. Documentary film by  Quebec-born Cree film-maker Neil Diamond examines how native Indians have been portrayed in North American movies using clips from silent films, John Wayne westerns, Billy Jack flicks and more modern examples like Smoke Signals, Dance Me Outside and Atanajuat: The Fast Runner ( to name a few.)

blog-reel-2

There are also video bites from Native Indian activist Russell Means, First Nations actors Adam Beach and Graham Greene, Professor Melinda Micco and film-maker Chris Eyre (among others).

blog-reel

Born to Be Blue

blog-blue-2

This is another film that has been out for a few months. I rented it on DVD because I have always been a big fan of Chet Baker’s music. There has been a Baker biopic in the works for over a decade (originally Brad Pitt was signed to star with Richard Linklater directing) but it took Canadian money, Ethan Hawke as Baker and Toronto-born filmmaker Robert Budreau to bring it to reality.  Like Miles Ahead (a fictional reporter played by Ewan McGregor invades the home space of Miles Davis played by Don Cheadle to find out why the famed jazz trumpeter has not recorded or toured in seven years) Born to be Blue is a “reimagined” version of real events. It’s true that Baker was wired on heroin, served jail time, was beaten up and lost his teeth in the process.  What isn’t true is that he was romantically involved with an actress named Jane (Carmen Ejego as Jane plays a composite character representing the women in Baker’s life) What’s true is that he was the “James Dean of Jazz”, the “Prince of Cool” just like the film says, a pop idol back in the early 50s when jazz still ruled the charts.

blog-chet-2
Chet Baker in the 1950s

What isn’t true (to the best of my knowledge) is that Hollywood planned to make a documentary on his life (depicted in the film). 

Writer/director Budreau skips over some of the more sordid aspects of the jazz legend’s life. (For that you will have to check out Bruce Weber’s riveting but ruthless Baker doc Let’s Get Lost).

blog-chet-4
Chet Baker -Lost in the Eighties

Budreau prefers to think (as he says in a DVD extra) that Born to Be Blue  is the kind of film folks might imagine while listening to Baker’s lightly swinging playing and dream-like vocals (“he sang with an innocent sweetness that made young girls fall right out of their saddle Oxfords,” Rex Reed once wrote. The film, on the other hand, has Dizzy Gillespie, portrayed by Kevin Hanchard, advising Baker not to try singing.)

The playing and vocalizing sounded effortless. And in the beginning, they were. That may have been part of the problem, the film seems to say.

blog-cover

Interestingly enough, some of the folks funding Born to Be Blue also shelled out money to produce this illuminating documentary on the famous (or infamous) shock rocker.  The film itself was produced and directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen who collectively have worked on rock docs about Rush and Iron Maiden (to name just two).

sam-dunn-scott-mcfadyn-2
Sam Dunn (right) and Scot McFadyen (the other guy)

I signed this one out from the library (in other words, it’s not a new release) on the word of my little sister. I have never been a huge Alice fan (although I hafta admit “Under My Wheels” has a greasy kick to it) but I was attracted partly by my sister (who doesn’t recommend  many films – especially docs) and by the reputation of Messrs Dunn and McFadyen.

Rent it for vintage photos and trivia (the band’s original name was The Earwigs),cameo appearances by his wife (he has had only one), his mom and dad and some true confessions on why the original band broke up.

blog-young-alice
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Most of all, you will see and hear and why the character of Alice Cooper almost killed its creator, a nice, church-going, golf-loving family man from Phoenix, Arizona named Vincent Furnier. 

blog-alice
Vincent as Alice: “Now let’s not lose our heads over this character.”

 

 

Dirk Goes Gently Into that Good Night

dirkgently-duo-2
Samuel Barnett (right) plays Dirk Gently and Elijah Wood is his “assistant

 

So this happened …. I watched the first few episodes of DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY and I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. Something about it, though, reminded me of the sublime madness that piloted the now ancient BBC radio series “The Goon Show” to heights of absurdity. The plot of Dirk Gently eventually makes sense (well, sort of) but that really isn’t the point. I’m talking/writing/posting about the recent American version here, not the British adaptation.

dirkgently-landis
Series creator (and chief writer) Max Landis

Series creator Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis, of An American Werewolf in London fame) based the show on the novels by Douglas Adams. Although people that have read the books claim the current series (available in North America on Netflix) has little in common with the original works, that rarefied air of whimsy that seems to be an English specialty is in keeping with the spirit of the author’s work.

The late Mr.Adams (who died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in 2001) was the author of A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a rabid fan of the venerable British TV series Doctor Who (in fact, Adams wrote several episodes) and once collaborated on a script with future Monty Python star Graham Chapman.

It’s a safe bet that if you appreciated any of the above, you’ll be hooked by Dirk Gently. Others have been cast in the role but Brit TV actor Sam Barnett (Penny Dreadful) is such a natural in the American version that I can’t imagine another actor as the title character. And Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood, as his “assistant”, Todd  Brotzman, has the same bemused expression as viewers  will probably wear during the first few episodes of this oddball series. The cast also includes the delightful Jade Eshete, the delectable Hannah Marks and the amazing Fiona Dourif (daughter of memorably offbeat actor Brad Dourif.)

dirkgently-fiona-2
Fiona Dourif – Carrying On The Family Tradition

Luke Cage Unbound!

I still have a jones for those old blaxploitation flicks. (In fact, as I write this, I still have copies of Pam Grier flicks like Foxy Brown and Coffy, loved her work in Jackie Brown, read her memoir, watched The L Word just for her).

luke-poster

That’s one of the reasons I like the new Netflix drama Luke Cage.  To me, it is like one of those great old blaxploitation flicks with a modern edge. Shucks, it even has The Delfonics (or what’s left of them) in one episode.

Mike Colter as the titular hero has the menace but not the malevolence of the drug dealer he portrayed to such chilling effect on CBS-TV’s The Good Wife (as Lemond Bishop, Mr. Colter didn’t have to crack heads. His presence alone spoke volumes.)

Kudos also to a sterling cast. I certainly  couldn’t know  Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes would make such a good villain after watching him in a completely different role in Netflix’s House of Cards.  And the indomitable Alfre Woodard as Cottonmoth’s corrupt cousin, Mariah Dillard, gets to show off her badass side. 

luke-ali3
Mahershalah Ali as Cottonmouth and Alfre Woodard as Ms. Dillard in Luke Cage

Everything about this show is impeccable  – congrats to series creator Cheo  Hodari Coker and company for a block bustin’ adaptation of the underappreciated Marvel comic. (Now all we need is a Pam Grier cameo in Season 2.)

luke-marvel-2
Mike Colter and the “real” Luke Cage (courtesy of Marvel Comics.)

Finally – A “Dick” Movie I Can Laugh Along With

Generally  I don’t  find alleged laff riots starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd or former members of Saturday Night Live especially humorous. My little sister (eleven years my junior) tells me she sat through one of these movies, bewildered, while members of the predominantly youthful crowd howled with laughter at the dick and fart jokes, common to these  movies. Don’t get me wrong. I thought this type of “humor” was hilarious during my prolonged adolescence.

Maybe  it’s a generational thing.

popstar-language
Funny in any language?

Nevertheless, I was relieved to discover I found POPSTAR (Never Stop Never Stopping) both funny and clever.

Popstar is the second feature from twisted trio The Lonely Island (responsible for those “Digital Shorts” on, yes, SNL)  The group comprises  Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. Messrs. Schaffer and Taccone directed the film and all three co-wrote and co-produced with the help of modern-day comedy maestro Judd Apatow, whose patented blend of humor’n’heart is prominently on display.

popstar-three
The Lonely Island

 There is enough lowbrow humor here for the multitude of fans  who embrace it (it’s no accident that during my “research” I was directed to a website called “Tastefully Offensive”) but there is also some witty dialogue for non-fans of this kind of funny. There is also a truckload of savvy pop cultural references that even a grizzled former media type like me could figure out) and cameos from real life music biz types (50 Cent, Danger Mouse, Adam Levine, Simon Cowell and Ringo Starr, just to name a few) saluting the exploits of mythical group The Style Boyz.

 The Style Boyz could be inspired by early Beastie Boys. The frontman, Conner4Real, played by Andy Samberg, bursts out of the group to become a successful solo act just as Justin Timberlake left ‘NSync to become a best-selling solo act.

Remember when U2’s Songs of Innocence appeared free of charge on millions of phones and iPods? Well, in this movie, Conner cuts a deal with  fictional company Aquaspin.  Everytime the door of a home appliance manufactured by the company opens, music from Conner4Real’s second CD starts playing. (The CD is released to mixed reviews, to put it charitably. Rolling Stone and Pitchfork hate it. The Onion gives it, uh, a rave review) Conner’s DJ, Owen. a former member of The Style Boyz (played by Jorma Taccone) wears a large piece of headgear just like Deadmaus. Conner’s song, “Equal Rights” bears a suspicious resemblance to Macklemore’s “Same Love” (although Conner goes to great pains in the lyrics to point out he’s not gay). Canadian popstar Justin Bieber is the target of several jibes. In fact, the whole movie is shot much in the style of self-indulgent pop documentaries like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.) And so on.

Naturally ,there are brief appearances by SNL alumni like Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Jimmy Fallon along with humorous perfs by Tim Meadows as Conner’s manager, Sarah Silverman as his publicist and Imogen Poots as starlet Ashley Wednesday (a play on ’60s starlet Tuesday Weld?)

As Mikey might say (a reference Popstar fans will probably not “get”) – “Lowbrow, yes, but I like it too.”

pop-poster

“Youth” and Aging and Paolo Sorrentino

Youth is an English language film by Oscar winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty).

The film is a somber meditation on, yes, youth and old age and all the choices we make in between.  Signor Sorrentino’s screenplay also has moments of humor. In fact, I found the comic relief refreshing in a film that often makes for unsettling viewing for a person of my age group and background.

youth-rachel
Veteran actress Rachel Weisz in Youth looking simply stunning in an old school one piece bathing suit

Youth boasts heartfelt performances from an excellent cast toplined by Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano and the indomitable Jane Fonda. (Ms. Fonda received a Golden Globe nomination  in the supporting actress category for her role as a fading but still potent screen actress. It is only a brief cameo but Ms. Fonda breathes real fire into it. I sense she has invested her character with her own experience surviving in the showbiz jungle.)

The film opened to mixed reviews. (Entertainment Weekly called it “hit-and miss. Beautiful but frustrating.) A number of critics mentioned Signor Sorrentino’s obvious indebtedness to fellow Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. (” … sub-Fellini touch feels indulgent and sugary” to quote Peter Bradshaw of U.K.’s theguardian.com) Actually, I welcomed Signor Sorrentino’s Fellinesque touches. (Two of my all-time film favorites are  8 1\2 and Amarcord.) I much prefer James Bernardelli who, in Reel Views, writes that ” Watching Youth, you’d swear Fellini had risen from his grave and returned to make another movie.” There are some amazing images here (and I’m not just referring to a totally nude Miss Universe, portrayed by Romanian model Madalina Ghenea, wading into the pool under the startled gaze of Messrs. Caine and Keitel.

youth-poster

Brad Wheeler in a generally favorable review of the film in Canada’s Globe and Mail writes  “Some of the dialogue is overstuffed and pretentious, written as if meant to be carved into stone.” Frankly, I thought the dialogue was wise (and, at times, humorous) and hit the mark (with me, at least).

In a previous life I reviewed films for pay. Okay,it was only for community newspapers  but I think I know the difference between a professional review written for money and a review written from the heart.  So even though I liked aspects of the film that more established critics did not appreciate, I am not going to allow those reviews to trivialize the emotions I may have felt while watching the film. 

youth-jane
Jane Fonda in Youth