Jun 26, 2014
Legendary drummer, Ginger Baker, renowned for his work with Cream and Blind Faith was once voted at "The musician least likely to survive the '60s." But now, four decades and a few years later, he has proved them all wrong and he is heading to the United States for a June 2014 jazz fusion tour and a new CD titled Why? due June 24 on Motema Music.
Teaming up with funk and jazz giant tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis--the architect of James Brown's era-defining soul of the late '60s and Van Morrison’s musical director for years; bassist Alec Dankworth; and African percussionist Abass Dodoo, the band is known as Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion. Together they play hip, progressive jazz originals in-a-Thelonious-Monk-style but with exciting African rhythms. After a brief series of stops in the US, including B.B. King’s in New York City June 24-25 and the Wilbur Theater in Boston June 29, they will appear at the Montreal Jazz Festival on June 30.
Baker has shunned the title of “Rock
Drummer” for years, pointing out that the improvisational nature of
his work with bands like Cream and Blind Faith owed far more to
jazz than rock. When the latter group broke up after only one
album, several members went on to form a jazz rock fusion band
known as ‘Ginger Baker’s Airforce,’ adding sax, flute, organ and
extra percussion to the band.
Baker’s work with Airforce and his friendship with Fela Kuti paved the way for Baker’s next musical project--to work with African musicians. A very funky live album was recorded in Abbey Road Studios under the name of Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa '70 with Ginger Baker. He returned to straight jazz for a series of albums with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden in the late Nineties.
What makes Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusionso exciting to me is the presence of Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis on saxophone. Ellis was a student of Sonny Rollins in New York, before heading to Florida to work as a bandleader, musical director and writer. From 1965 to 1969 he anchored the James Brown Revue, co-writing this like “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).” He wrote what has become a jazz-funk standard, “The Chicken”, which reached iconic stature when recorded by bassist Jaco Pastorious.
After leaving Brown, he worked as an arranger and musical director for CTI Records' Kudu label, collaborating with artists like George Benson, Hank Crawford and Esther Phillips. In the late 1970s he moved to San Francisco and formed a band with former Miles Davis sideman David Liebman. He also led the JB Horns with Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. This man oozes funk from every pore.
I spoke with Pee Wee from London, and our conversation – which is difficult to hear sometimes, but please bear with us – is Podcast 434. Musical selections “Aiko Byae”, “St. Thomas” and “Footsteps” from Why? are included, as well as a Jaco version of “The Chicken”.
Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion will perform at Boston's Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116 on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 7 PM. Tickets at $55, $45 and $25 are on sale now at www.ticketmaster.com. For more information go to www.thewilbur.com.