Wednesday, June 17, 2015


This article originally appeared in the 6.18.15 issue of Metroland.


The Egg Swyer Theater

June 16, 2015

            What I owe to Ginger Baker is immeasurable.  Suffice it to say that in my early teens I, along with a generation of players, absorbed all of those Cream records, especially the live ones with the 10+ minute tracks of utter free-form jamming.  His playing was different than anyone else we were listening to, less predictable and more explosive.  We didn’t know it, but we were getting schooled in African polyrhythms, and we were becoming not just rock drummers, but musicians. So watching him gloriously do his thing now, at the age of 75, was kind of like returning to the womb.  

            If you saw the wonderful documentary “Beware Of Mr. Baker” (and if you haven’t, you must), you know how difficult and weird his life has been.  And that, next to perhaps Keith Richards, there’s no rational reason why he should still be among us.  He’s not big on either compromise or self-restraint.  And that movie relaunched him and here he is a few years later, killing it.

            The show at Egg consisted entirely of tracks from his most recent album “Why” performed with the terrific band he recorded it with, the masterful Coltrane acolyte Pee Wee Ellis, jazz royalty bassist Alex Dankworth and the extraordinary Ghanian percussionist Abass Dodoo.  Baker was helped to his drums by Dodoo and immediately launched into Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”.  The band members were hands in each other’s gloves, and particularly the interplay between Baker and Dodoo was like one long playful and surprising conversation all night long.

            And oh hella yeah he’s still got it.  The groove was unconscious and Baker uses Afro-beat repetition like bait and then stings you with a jab to the toms.   His days of the ten minute boogeda boogeda solos are behind him (I saw him do one at the Cream reunion in ’04 that brought the crowd to their feet not once but three times) but that doesn’t make him any less lethal.  Not one bit.

            Baker noted that two weeks ago he was in the hospital with pneumonia; the band played four tunes then took a break, and upon coming back Ginger said “we’re going to play a slightly shorter set because the old man isn’t feeling too clever tonight.”  Then they launched into a ferocious rendition of the Nigerian folk song (and Air Force staple) Aiko Biaye, with Baker and Dodoo smiling and laughing throughout.  The sold-out crowd leapt up, roaring.  I don’t think anybody felt short-changed in the least.

            Not too clever my ass, old man.  Thanks for everything.


At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Michael Hochanadel said...

Amen and hotcha!


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