Motema Music

There might not have been a more shocking moment in a rock documentary upon recent recollection than seeing Ginger Baker straight up punch music journalist Jay Bulger in the face during a pivotal moment of the award-winning 2012 doc Beware of Mr. Baker.

Yet for as mean as the British rock icon is in private at 70 years young, he is a master of channeling that internal viscera behind the drum kit to craft some of the most adventurous rhythms of the last half-century, be it as a member of the Graham Bond Organisation, Cream, Air Force or Masters of Reality.

But if you were to take one recording that truly defines the heart of this English icon’s love for his craft, look no further than his essential 1970 collaboration with African funk legend Fela Kuti, Fela Ransome Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker Live. If you haven’t heard it, you need to hunt it down straightaway. This is the album that will serve as the primary reference point to help you appreciate his excellent new LP with his current ensemble Jazz Confusion.

Why? marks Baker’s first studio work since 1998’s Coward of the Country (with his now defunct outfit DJQ20) and his most ardent stab at jazz since 1994’s Falling Off The Roof with his renowned unit featuring guitarist Bill Frisell and the late Charlie Haden on bass. And just as this ensemble did during its sold out four-night debut stand at London’s famed Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, these eight performances indicate the lineup of James Brown alumnus Pee Wee Ellis on tenor sax, bassist Alec Dankworth, and Abass Dodoo on be his strongest non-rock crew since the aforementioned trio.

Undertones of the polyrhythmic patterns that drove the drummer’s work with Fela might provide the brass tacks of tracks like “Cyril Davis”, “Aiko Biaye” and a beautiful cover of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”. But its the natural interplay between the players Mr. Baker has assembled here bolster some of the most straight up bop chops for Ginger to rumble underneath. The old man even tries his hand at “found sounds” which, in Baker’s world, includes spinning the wheels of his beloved Jensen FF and throwing an office chair down a flight of stairs, adding a sense of chaos to the cool overtones of this great recording.

A word to the wise for any young rock scribes who run the risk of being knocked out by Mr. Baker during an interview: Talk to the man about jazz. You’ll avoid a fatlip and get some great stories in the interim.