A marlbank review of Baker 2014 album, Why? follows below.
A quartet record recorded at Real World in February, the Cream legend joined by JBs great, tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, Generation Band bassist Alec Dankworth tremendous here, and the percussionist Abass Dodoo yin to Baker’s yang, at once a curiosity, as Baker isn’t often heard these days on record playing jazz although he’s been touring a lot recently with his Jazz Confusion band, the unit here. But it also connects with Baker’s jazz past: relatively recent as ‘Ginger Spice’ was written by trumpeter Ron Miles who Baker worked so well with on Atlantic record Coward of the County at the end of the 1990s; and long gone past, a paean to Baker's Graham Bond Organisation days. Baker, as you can see above on the album cover looks right at the camera defiantly, the drum icon’s face shrouded by smoke. That swirling constantly changing sense is also here on the eight tracks, Pee Wee Ellis’ ‘Twelve and More Blues’ allowing Baker to eventually seem like he could even be the musical granddad of Seb Rochford. The loping delicious sound of ‘Cyril Davis’ or ‘Cyril Davies’ as it should be (again a link to Coward of the County) Baker’s tune next, a nod to 1960s harmonica ace Cyril Davies who Baker used to play with in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated brings out a lot of soul from Pee Wee here exhibiting some of his strongest playing in years, Dankworth coming alive. The spirit of the revolutionary jazz and blues of the 1960s rarely equalled in jazz history has never left Baker and it’s on display here, and it’s fitting that one of the great ballad anthems of that decade is included with a puckish take on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ from 1966, Baker sensibly taking the tempo up a notch as Pee Wee delves deep into the nuts and bolts of the tune. Baker’s ‘Ain Temouchant’ sees Ellis come over like Sonny Rollins and it’s a handsome sound full of character. Newk’s ‘St Thomas’ is the next track appropriately enough, though it’s the least effective treatment here, more a jog along than anything else. The Nigerian traditional piece arranged by Baker, ‘Aiko Biaye’, is a good reminder that Baker and Fela Kuti had an understanding and Why can easily be said to be an AfroJazz album. The title track at the end has a humongous groove beginning briefly like the beat behind ‘Coming Home Baby’ before a spell of offbeat hi-hat clashing, Dankworth coming back to reprise that ‘Coming Home’ thumping momentum and a melody that has a ‘Wade in the Water’ spiritual feel to it Baker scrapping away with a little vocal response from Kudzai and Lisa Baker. No need to ask why at all, just let Baker be. SG