MANHATTAN, NY—Cream drummer Ginger Baker offered up his unique stew of Afrobeats to a loosely jazz configured combo that also included sax, congas and bass. The band let it flow from the swampy ethers of a Moroccan Kasbah to the steamy urban jungles of the Congo and back to the bush.
Percussionist Abass Dodoo’s counter rhythms and accentuations colored the tom tom-driven punch that were at the core of the Afrobeats that Baker laid down. His polyrhythms barely touched at the essence of jazz’s dotted triplets as he took a swing to another dimension. Dodoo’s were steady-handed, no-nonsense thumps that crackled the snare on the fourth beat.
Known for his double-kick drumming, the 74-year-old Baker steered clear of them, keeping things mid-ranged. Dodoo filled in the spaces to Baker’s minimalist yet concise playing while bassist Alec Dankworth added some melodic pull. Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis from James Brown’s band added the sonic howl to the dynamic quartet’s multi-cultural swing.
Using cymbals, congas and cowbells, Ellis interwove his spicy fills to Baker’s primal thunder. Dodoo and Dankworth’s musical forays peaked through the rhythms as they provided a swirly concoction of jazzy worldbeat.
Baker was a stoic figure up there, straight-faced and playing with his eyes shut most of the night. He addressed the crowd in barely audible tones except when he took them on before the encore with a “shut the f**k up” before he introduced the tune “Why” that he dedicated to the the bad things that have happened to him in his life. They played a tasty rendition of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and a Nigerian folk song, “Aiko Biaye,” that nicely countered Ellis’ bebop horn.
A rock and roll legend and outlaw, Baker’s been thrown out of more countries than most, but has witnessed firsthand the ‘60s invasion to the Afrobeat pioneered by Fela Kuti in the ‘70s as well. Check out the recently released on DVD Beware Of Mr. Baker that follows Ginger to his home in Africa and interviews his associates over the years. It’s hilarious at times but often a bittersweet portrait of one of rock’s most elusive and colorful characters.