It’s funny that Ginger Baker was once voted the musician least likely to survive the 1960s - the clean-cut, Clint Eastwood-cool, collected drummer quite simply owned the stage at Chicago’s City Winery last night. Donning a crisp black shirt, shadows against strands of bright red and grey hair commanded the same attention that his twirling sticks displayed.

Those who saw the 2012 doc, 'Beware of Mr. Baker', knew the British drummer had been portrayed as a coarse, vengeful sod but that image seemed cartoonish now, another lifetime away. Perched on his throne, Baker displayed no ego, impatience or bitterness tonight.

And, in his defence, he’s found his way back to the idiom he began with and truly appears to love, although he’s more well known for the couple of successful years he spent with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in the successful trio, Cream, in the 1960s.

It was the second sold out show on a Monday night. Besides Baker, Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion consists of tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis (James Brown, Van Morrison), Ghanian percussionist Abass Dodoo and bassist Alec Dankworth, son of Cleo Laine and saxophonist father John Dankworth. Alec Dankworth's spot on and biting bass lines added a rich layer to Baker’s output on his unique double bass drum kit, as well as to Dodoo’s virile conga playing and expert command of multiple cymbals.

The first song, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ was loaded with spirit but was not nearly as cantankerous as what would follow. That said, it was an undulating interpretation, flavoured with forceful African rhythms. Dodoo divided his time equally between cymbals and hi-hat.

Baker and his mates are masterful at building momentum. In the audience, you find yourself grooving to a beat that suddenly escalates and you just can’t figure out how and when it happened as the transition is so smooth. Written by composer Ron Miles,‘Ginger Spice’ was the song that really brought down the house with its fascinating polyrhythms and pleasing melody. Perhaps this is because the original is more mainstream than the more free jazz selections played this evening, and the audience did include the expected Cream fans who were hoping for some rock hits from back then. “He didn’t play the songs, the songs we love,” complained a boomer later in the evening, heading towards the wine bar.

Baker mumbled a story about driving off the side of one of the Atlas mountains in Algeria and hitting an olive tree. With an intro like that, you’d better come up with a great tune, don’t you think? Well, what followed was, indeed, a hard hitting piece and a pretty good counter-puncher. It was a night of real fleshed-out jazz; a palette of irresistible polyrhythm that even the classic rockers couldn’t ignore and it even included some references to Thelonius Monk.

Pee Wee Ellis consistently played his heart out, dreamily accompanying each song with bold squawks or references to American spirituals. He easily embraced tempo changes spearheaded by Baker and Dodoo, and Baker seemed to enjoy the constant camaraderie.

Baker made a few sparse comments between songs like when he acknowledged Cyril Davies as “a great jazz player who died far too young.” But with a fine set list that includes classics like Monk's ‘Bemsha Swing’ and Rollins’ ‘St. Thomas’, the tunes spoke for themselves.

When Dankworth exploded on one fine solo, parlaying some crisp technique, his team made sure their polyrhythmic accents enhanced his performance. It wasn’t long before a kind of hypnotic effect evolved from the asymmetrical arrangement.

Baker chimed in after playing the standards, “We’re going to do something we don’t know what it is. We’re just going to improvise.” When Dodoo’s bare hands hit the congas and then teased the random cymbal with the careful brush of a Renaissance oil painter, it was worth the price of admission alone, but the real treat was how he and the more restrained Baker fed off of each other’s contagious energies. Even that sorrowful rock fan must have felt some goose bumps.

Baker was absolutely nothing like the grumpy sod portrayed in the documentary. In fact, he was genuinely eager to interact: “My drumsticks feel like lumps of lead. I really have to go to bed,” he exclaimed, mid-set.

The Nigerian song, ‘Aiko Biaye’, enjoyed lots of clave from Dodoo. Pee Wee’s build-up reached back to our souls. His mellow intonation and rubato scale tones set against a brick solid African pulse were fabulous. He and Baker rarely engaged in eye contact, but their chemistry couldn’t be denied.

The trading off became more vivid and organic as the evening progressed, and when the official set ended the audience had to work to get Baker back for an encore. An enthusiastic Dodoo said the only way to do it was to chant his name loudly. After a chorus of "Ginger, Ginger, Ginger," he returned and simply stated, “This is a song I wrote recently but includes stuff that happened fifty years ago. You can shout ‘why’ at the appropriate time.”
So, of course, who wouldn’t chant “Why” (Motema Music) – the title song of Baker’s new album – in order to pinch an encore from an icon?

So, every time a tasty pattern in three was played by the quartet we shouted back. The simple song had a distinct laid back vibe until Pee Wee squirmed his way up the scale, using heaving low tones as an accent mark. But that’s jazz – you never know exactly where it’s going to take you even if you ask yourself ‘Why?’

Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion tour began this June with a short European tour in Luxembourg and Madrid, followed by a USA Tour originating in California, then hitting the Midwest and ending on the East Coast. In July, the band returned to the UK to perform at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where Baker spent many happy nights earlier in his career with the Graham Bond Organisation and others. Last year, the band also toured intensively.











Related Links:



Commenting On: City Winery, Chicago, 23/6/2014 - Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last