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Concert Review: Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion at Iridium, NYC

The volatile drummer's still got it at 74

Alec Dankworth, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Ginger Baker, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Ginger Baker, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Ginger Baker, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Ginger Baker, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Ginger Baker and Pee Wee Ellis, Iridium, NYC 10-13
Pee Wee Ellis
Pee Wee Ellis, Iridium, NYC, October 2013 (photo: Jeff Tamarkin)

Some came to hear “Toad,” or at least “Sunshine of Your Love,” but there would be nothing remotely resembling Cream tonight. Others, having recently seen Beware of Mr. Baker, the 2012 documentary profiling the irascible 74-year-old British drummer, undoubtedly hoped he would smack someone in the nose with his cane, as he does to the director in one of the defining moments of the film. But the closest he came to that was grimacing repeatedly when the soundman neglected to turn the volume up on his hi-hat mic to his satisfaction. What Ginger Baker came to do tonight-and will continue to do here through Sunday, and on the other dates of his short American tour-was to play jazz.

That in itself should not have surprised anyone. Jazz was Baker’s first love-he played the music in the early ’60s before he detoured into rock, blues and, later, world music, and he’s never seen himself as anything other than a jazz drummer. The few years he spent with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in the groundbreaking Cream, followed by Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force and other rock-oriented outfits, gave him his fame as one of the all-time power drummers, but he’s long expressed his disdain for most rock and has downplayed his own influence on the genre, dismissing even the most celebrated rock drummers as inferior to his own jazz heroes.

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