Ginger Baker: Jazz in Semi-Retirement

Why? A Sampler

Show of hands—who remembers Cream? If you do, you'll probably also recall that Ginger Baker was the drummer backing Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Baker was so identified with Cream and Blind Faith that few know that his first love was American jazz, not rock and roll. Baker is now 75 and lives in South Africa, but he's still playing music. He even hits the road occasionally, though it's almost always with the quartet Jazz Confusion. If the three-song sampler I recently received is any indication, there's plenty of verve and energy left in Baker's sticks.

The other members of Jazz Confusion are Pee Wee Ellis on saxophone, Alec Dankworth on bass, and Abass Dodo on African hand percussion. I am simply not qualified to judge the merits of Jazz Confusion or Baker's role in it. I have never played or listened to much jazz and, aside from a brief fascination with Buddy Rich, know next to nothing about jazz drummers. I can tell you that there's a lot of percussion on the sampler, including several Baker solos. The three tunes I sampled are in the bebop tradition. The tunes are thus conversations between the musicians with improv breakouts that Baker anchors with steady beats. Ellis–who has backed both James Brown and Van Morrison–is a marvel who draws so much inspiration from John Coltrane that you can be a jazz ignoramus and know that much. But make no mistake, this is exploratory jazz, even when the quartet interprets material such as "AikoBiaye," a Nigerian folk song.

Jazz fans should check out what Baker is up to these days. Those of you looking for "Sunshine of Your Love" should steer clear. "Why?" is the closest thing to rock on the sampler–it has gritty bass lines and pop hooks–but even it veers into the stratosphere. If you don't like this sort of music, Baker couldn't care less. On the other hand, I'd like to hear from those of you who like and understand jazz. This isn't my cup of tea, but I could be convinced to sip some more.  Rob Weir

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