|November 4, 2009 - Jazz Café, London [UK]|
*with special guest Steve Winwood on guitar & vocals
Once again, thanks to Rob at Smokin' Vulture for the photos
Jazz Café, London - November 4, 2009
The former Cream drummer is promoting his autobiography and celebrating his 70th birthday with a rag-tag performance 3/5
Although best known for his titanic drum solos in the 1960s supergroup Cream, Ginger Baker is a musician with a subtle and varied history of performing across rock, jazz and world music genres. With a new autobiography, aptly titled Hellraiser, to promote, and the unlikely achievement of a 70th birthday to celebrate, he made a rare concert appearance, accompanied by a motley collection of musicians, including his daughter Leda Baker on guitar, the jazz saxophonist Pete King, the rock guitarist and singer Chris Goss and the virtuoso bass player Jonas Hellborg.
In a brief voyage round a career marked by epic highs interspersed with long periods of either innovation or inertia, this rag-tag band played selections ranging from 'Ants In The Kitchen' - a number that Baker composed during a spell with Goss in the hard rock group Masters of Reality - to the Thelonious Monk tune 'Bemsha Swing'. A version of the Cream song 'Sweet Wine' (also a Baker composition) gave way to a piece described as a "Nigerian lullaby", which ended with a percussion passage that sounded like logs rolling down an African hillside.
Enclosed behind an escarpment of drums and cymbals, Baker looked like an ageing gangster as he played with an air of super-relaxed menace, his hands seemingly guided by his outsized sticks rather than the other way around. Although he sketched deft patterns on ride cymbals and snare, his sound was dominated, as ever, by the extraordinarily resonant thwack of timber on tom tom, underpinned by the booming double-kick drum figures which have long been his trademark.
The show ended with an affectionate cameo from Steve Winwood, who recalled his first visit to London in 1961 (at the age of 13), when he saw Baker performing with the Graham Bond Organisation. Another daughter, Ginette Baker, arrived on stage bearing an elaborate cake as Winwood led the audience through a verse of 'Happy Birthday' - arranged in a South African style - before setting off on wary performances of 'Can't Find My Way Home' and 'Had To Cry Today'. As Winwood pointed out, he and Baker had not played these songs from the Blind Faith album for 40 years or so, and it sounded like it, particularly when Winwood reached for certain notes that are nowadays slightly beyond his range.
Despite the celebratory mood, they finished to a strangely muted response from the uncomfortably packed crowd, and having made the awkward journey upstairs to his dressing room, Baker was not persuaded to return for an encore. [David Sinclair]