Ginger Baker

Going Back Home

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Give Ginger Baker this: He sure knows how to choose his sidemen. In fact, there is a certain pleasant symmetry to his recording career between the mid-'60s and the mid-'90s. It is a career bookended by power trios, first with his partnership with fellow virtuosos Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce in Cream, and then, almost 30 years later and well after most would have written him off as a relic from a bygone era, this trio with Charlie Haden and Bill Frisell. More surprising even than this unlikely partnership is the fact that the album actually works. Most memorable are the Baker-penned compositions, which sport melodies that seem to have more in common with British or Arabic folk music than bebop. As a jazz drummer, Baker is surprisingly convincing on most of the material. The timbre of his drums, unusual for a jazz album, adds a pleasing earthiness to the proceedings, and intersects well with Haden's rich bass. Everything Frisell touches turns to gold, and this album is no exception. Here he is at his quirky, impressionistic best, tossing off Monk quotations as effortlessly as he sculpts darkly ambient textures. Despite these fine achievements, Going Back Home is not perfect. On some of the material, Baker's heavy rock hand shows a bit too much, as on "Straight, No Chaser." The results are charming in their own way, but one wishes that Baker could ease up on the "Sunshine of Your Love" tom-tom fills once in a while. Also, the closer, "East Timor," features an annoying voiceover by Baker that ends the record on an off note. However, the "rockisms" work more often than they don't, and even when they don't, the groove never suffers, and the trio members always sound like they're having fun. By turns hauntingly melancholy and fearlessly experimental, this record is sure to please Frisell and Haden fans, and likely to pleasantly surprise those who enjoy Baker's work with Cream.

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