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The Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion at the Musical Instrument Museum

Patricia Myers By

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The Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ
October 18, 2013

The Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion was promoted as a tribute to jazz icons Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk. When just two of those artists were musically referenced and Monk was not, it likely was noticed only by the scattering of jazz fans in the 300-seat house that had sold out weeks in advance.

Baker basically delivered rock-drumming techniques within the jazz idiom, which obviously wasn't a disappointment to the mainly Boomer Generation audience, some wearing Cream logo and tie-dyed t-shirts, all with wide smiles of anticipation on their faces. All evening, just as at rock concerts, out popped camera-phones for photos and videos.

British-born Peter Edward Baker gained global fame as the drummer with the 1960s rock bands Cream and Blind Faith. Originally a jazz drummer, he has collaborated with jazz stars in the past, including the Ginger Baker Trio with bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell in the 1990s. He also led the Denver Jazz Quintet-to-Octet (DJQ2O) with trumpeter Ron Miles and bassist Artie Moore. His double-bass-drum kit is a knockoff of Louie Bellson's.

For rockers and jazzers alike, this was a captivating performance, sparked by the same Baker flamboyance of his earlier years. After the 74-year-old strolled slowly from the wings (he has COPD and a degenerative spine condition), he was assisted onto the raised stage. His trademark reddish long hair now grey and sheared to ear-length, he was seated on an office chair, rather than the usual stool.

Seated next to him was Ghanian percussionist Abass Dodoo, whose power on congos, bongos, cymbals etc. sometimes submerged the acoustic bass and saxophone. But when Alec Dankworth (son of jazz vocalist Cleo Laine and saxophonist John Dankworth) switched to electric, that improved the aural balance for the concert's mix of jazz, world music and blues.

Baker hasn't lost his flair for showmanship, delivering blazing tom-tom segments, the snare drum employed less frequently. Rather than drums solos, Baker and Dodoo worked together to create exciting polyrhythmic skirmishes, a terrific collaboration that reflected Baker living for six years in Nigeria in the 1970s.

Tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis solidly delivered inventive jazz progressions on the opening selection, Shorter's "Footprints," its complexity underscored by layers of duo drumming. Ellis' reed section work with James Brown informed his stop-tempo original, "Twelve and More Blues." A shift into a minor mood was delivered on Miles' "Ginger Spice," performed without commentary regarding the Spice Girls member of that name.

After intermission, Baker announced "We are time-travelers" and moved into an original, "Cyril Davies" in tribute to the late 1950s British bluesman, with Ellis exploring a free-jazz mode as Dodoo punctuated with stick-on-cymbal. Rollins' "St. Thomas" had propulsive island-beat energy even without steel-drums, especially when Dodoo worked cowbell and shekere (beaded gourd). At its end, Baker said, "I'm too old for this. Are you trying to kill me?"

The closing selection started with Baker's story behind "Ain Temouchant," telling how he drove his car at high speed off a cliff in the Atlas Mountains in north Algeria, landing on an olive tree in the village below. Then he slowly exited stage left.

When the audience applauded long and loud, Dodoo emerged to coax, "Make some noise! Say Gin-gah Bah-kah! Gin-gah Bah-kah!" When everyone did, Baker returned to introduce the encore "Why?" saying, "Terrible things have happened to me in the past, and they keep happening right up until today. And always, when these things happen, I ask a question: Why?" During the chart, at Dodoo's direction, the audience sang along, "Why? Why? Why?" until the last drum beat faded.

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