Ginger Baker

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Live Review

by Lindsay Planer

While this thoroughly entertaining and recommended disc is billed as a combined effort by former Cream and Blind Faith skins man Ginger Baker and Nigerian-based Fela Kuti, Live is infinitely more reminiscent of Kuti and company's rhythm-heavy funk, than anything from Baker's rock, blues, and jazz-oriented background. The four pieces on this album -- originally issued in 1971 -- are nevertheless fascinating artifacts from their collaboration. The union between the two musicians occurred several months earlier when Fela was cutting studio sides in London. In later interviews, Baker recalled the meeting as one of the exceedingly "profound" experiences of his (then) young life. Each of the works prominently features Kuti's Africa '70 band, who unleash a barrage of beats reminiscent of James Brown's late-'60s and early-'70s J.B.'s. Rather than simply underscoring the melodies with mantra-esque repetitive rhythms, they significantly punctuate and augment Kuti's often unintelligible lyrics. Kuti's compositions relate specific stories, which are expounded upon during his brief spoken introductions. Most pointedly is the aptly titled lead "Let's Start" -- in which Kuti explains that he is "ready to start what he has come into the room to do." As well as "Ye Ye De Smell" -- a candid expose of friendships that are dissolved over "things that friends shouldn't do," according to Kuti. This track is the only one on the disc to blatantly highlight Baker's percussive contributions. In 2000, much of Kuti's voluminous back catalog was released on CD for the first time in North America. This version of Live also contains a formerly unavailable drum duet between Africa '70 member Tony Allen and Baker from the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival.

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