Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion was welcomed warmly to the United States last night by a full house at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope PA. The large audience was attentive and applauded in all the right places during the two sets, and the musically brilliant but notoriously combative Baker was appreciative of the reception.
Now 74 years old and in constant pain from a degenerative spine condition, Ginger still displayed the form that influenced a tide of rock drummers. Characteristically, Baker’s relentless hi-hat creates a pulse for every song. The stylistic aspect, so prominent during Baker’s ground-breaking years with Cream, was soon passed down to a second wave of drummers powering 1970s hard rock bands ranging from Mountain to Cactus.
|Jazz Confusion on stage in London earlier this year.|
That Baker has a legion of rock disciples, of course, has always annoyed him, for Ginger considers himself a jazz drummer.
And that’s certainly the style that Jazz Confusion deftly works through, covering material ranging from a Sonny Rollins tune to a bluesy check-in via a composition written by the late Cyril Davies, a Baker cohort in the early 1960s. With Baker and Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo merging swing with African rhythms, an energetic foundation supported bassist Alec Dankworth and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis. Ellis, long-time sideman with James Brown during Brown’s most fertile creative period, took lengthy solos that varied intensity with playfulness. Dankworth held the low end, partnering with Baker and Dodoo to support Ellis but also stepping forward with dexterity for his own moments in the spotlight. No surprise that Dankworth should shine: he’s the son of the late horn player and composer John Dankworth and wife Cleo Laine, the only singer nominated for Grammy Awards in jazz, classical, and pop categories.
At one point Ginger said, "I'm 74 years old and have a number of physical infirmities, so I apologize if I can't play what you want to hear." It was an entirely unnecessary apology.