This article originally appeared in the 6.18.15 issue of Metroland
GINGER BAKER’S JAZZ CONFUSION
What I owe
to Ginger Baker is immeasurable.
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.
was different than anyone else we were listening to, less predictable and more
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
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.
was helped to his drums by Dodoo and immediately launched into Wayne Shorter’s
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.
hella yeah he’s still got it.
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.
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
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
clever my ass, old man.