Published Jul 02, 2014I have to admit I had a bit of morbid curiosity about this show. The legendarily irascible Ginger Baker has often expressed admiration for jazz (and this was very much "in the tradition"), but has usually not transcended his rock drummer pedigree. Tonight may have changed my entire opinion of his playing — not so much that I think he's a brilliant, visionary drummer, but enough to make this concert surpass expectations. The secret weapon was Abbas Doodoo, who literally and symbolically helped him to the stage and then proceeded to underline on congas and other percussion most of what Baker was doing on drums. They were really dialled in to one another; the percussionist was so familiar with Baker's cadence that he would mirror his solos and create truly powerful, composite solos.
That's what made it interesting for me: I had to think of Baker not as a drumkit player but as a conga soloist, transferring conga riffs all over his expansive kit. In that respect, the foundation was rock solid, and despite Baker's age, he kept wonderful time and was quite judicious in his programmatic approach to solos. As for the accompaniment, I was at least as excited to see Pee Wee Ellis, James Brown's former bandleader, but he was just okay — soulful, no doubt, but also an uninspired and somewhat dispassionate soloist. Bassist Alec Dankworth (son of John) was decent enough on acoustic bass but less articulate on electric. The band worked through standards like "Well You Needn't" and originals like "Ginger Spice" with equal depth. Solos were pretty lax all night but Baker and Doodoo's interplay was frequently alchemical. This definitely exceeded expectations.