Ginger Baker

No Material

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Issued under Ginger Baker's name, the working title for this band was No Material, appropriate given the thrown-together nature of the group and the fact that their performances, all three of them, were totally improvised. They lasted less than a week, so this album is likely all that will ever be heard from this particular combination of players, but listeners can be glad to have it. Guitarist Nicky Skopelitis was the creative force and musical center of the band, forming the hub between the essentially rock-oriented leanings of Baker and bassist Jan Kazda and the explosively free tendencies of the Last Exit front line of Brotzmann and Sharrock. The rhythm team keeps the four lengthy pieces in a grooving zone, not dissimilar to Baker's own '80s recordings like Horses and Trees, albeit with high-energy soloing. The Skopelitis/Sharrock pairing is especially juicy, the former's melodicism contrasting wonderfully with the latter's "shards of glass" approach. Baker's heavy drum sound, largely unchanged since his days with Cream, fits in very well here; whereas it could occasionally seem plodding in a rock context, it serves as a deeply pitched anchor in a mostly free improv one. Compositional credit is given for each piece, though it appears that no more than a brief introductory line was sketched out; then the band was on there own. All of the pieces have a kind of bluesy jam feeling, with Skopelitis' "Oil of Tongue" coming closest to a rock sound and, not surprisingly, Brotzmann's closing number pushing the boundaries the furthest. The saxophone colossus from Wuppertal, Germany, is in stellar form throughout, negotiating the unusually (for him) rock-ish territory with aplomb and ferocity, with respect but absolutely no compromise; his fans would expect no less. A perfect album for listeners a bit overwhelmed by Last Exit, as well as those who found Baker's or Skopelitis' records well intentioned but a little on the timid side. Recommended.

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