Ginger Baker will probably always be most famous as the cantankerous, exacting drummer behind British rock juggernauts Cream and Blind Faith, but at heart he’s a jazzman—and for the past couple decades, with only a few exceptions, he’s been applying his jagged polyrhythms to the music he grew up loving. In the 90s he released a couple of excellent records with forward-looking players such as Bill Frisell and Ron Miles, but it’s been 17 years since he released a new album. That changes this week with the arrival of Why?
(Motema), a brusque session made with a quartet dubbed Jazz Confusion, whose lineup includes former James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, British bassist Alec Dankworth (son of singer Cleo Laine and reedist John Dankworth), and Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo. Baker applies a wonderful drag and heft to the music, playing just behind the beat to create a masterfully modulated tension. He keeps an imperturbable pulse with his hi-hat and expresses himself primarily with booming toms and a pair of kick drums, playing stuttery, shuffling, propulsive patterns that punch hard. Dodoo makes a simpatico partner for Baker, thickening the grooves and deftly adding his own beats to their polymetric matrix; the combination reminds me of similar trap-kit-and-hand-drums setups employed by Randy Weston and Ahmad Jamal. The material on the new album includes postbop staples by Sonny Rollins (“St. Thomas”) and Wayne Shorter (“Footsteps”), and the nimble quartet treats them with the same unfussy directness as Baker’s originals—no matter how they stretch and push the tunes, though, they stay wrapped around his insistent hi-hat snap. —Peter Margasak Early show is sold out.