|Ginger Baker. Bristol International Jazz & Blues Fest 2013|
Photo Credit: Ruth Butler
(Colston Hall Bristol. 1st March 2013. First night of Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival. Review by Mike Collins)
It was all about the drums. Of course it was. This is a band built around and by the legendary 60s rockers Cream’s drummer. I fancy there were a few of the audience who had come to refresh that connection (‘did you see Cream here Dad?’ overhead in the anticipatory queue). The visual impact of the stage re-enforced the stripped down focus. Pee Wee Ellis (legend in his own right) and Alec Dankworth (hopefully his prodigious powers on bass not obscured by his father’s legend status) stood in front of a raised wall of drums consisting of Baker’s double bass drum kit and percussionist Abass Dodoo’s battery of congas.
After the briefest of welcomes from the festival organiser Denny Illet, his delight barely concealed at the great start Bristol’s inaugural festival was having, the leader marched to his kit, settled himself down and without ceremony launched into the first tune of the night Footprints. The insistent triplet pulse of the explicitly African rhythms was there from the first beat and throughout the evening, Abbass and Ginger must have played every subdivision and multiple of that basic element, trading phrases and locking into complementary grooves with increasing delight and enthusiasm.
Putting just a saxophone and bass in front of this insistent swell of energy (and sound) suddenly made perfect sense. Pee Wee Ellis revealed a side with which many of his fans from his James Brown days will be unfamiliar. A keening, vocalised elemental sound on Baker originals inspired by times in Algeria and memories of blues man Cyril Davies were high points for me, touching real raw emotion. The format and rhythmic focus gave familiar material like Bemsha Swing and St. Thomas a new twist (‘we’re going to do an old one’ Baker wheezed in introduction, the exertion telling at times). This line-up balances the disparate elements of the old rocker's deceptively direct approach, his keen, heartfelt commitment to the polyrhythms of African music and love of jazz. It evokes an inspired response from the exposed voice of Pee Wee with just the support of the bass.
There were times when the barrage from behind them threatened to overwhelm with Alec Dankworth’s sound disappearing into a general roar of bass but there were moments of real delicacy by contrast and by the end the clamour for more was loud and insistent. The wisecracking continued as a clearly pleased Baker led the band back on stage (‘you lot want me to die up here’ he reproached). There didn’t seem much Confusion about the job at end as he raised his sticks for the last time of the evening.