British Rock and Jazz drummer Ginger Baker is the sort of difficult individual
people often call a “character” to be polite.
There is plenty of “character” talk going on throughout a new warts and
all documentary profile of the former Cream musician. However, some of his very former colleagues choose
not to mince their words in Jay Bulger’s Beware
of Mr. Baker (trailer
opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.
is the king of widely acclaimed but short-lived bands, like Cream, Blind Faith,
Ginger Baker’s Airforce, Masters of Reality, and a dynamite legit jazz band Baker
formed during his Colorado residency. He
is a major reason why each outfit struck a chord with listeners and critics
alike, and also the primary cause of their premature demise. Just ask Eric Clapton, Baker’s colleague from
Cream and Blind Faith. Bulger does
exactly that. While the timeless
guitarist tries to be diplomatic, it is clear Baker the Wildman scared the holy
heck out of him—and probably still does.
is mind-blowing to watch Baker’s repeating pattern of career comebacks cut
short by self-sabotage. A case in point
would be his African sojourn, partly documented in Tony Palmer’s rather
engaging Ginger Baker in Africa. Arguably at the height of his fame, Baker
went off the grid, traveling to a decidedly unstable Nigeria to explore
traditional forms of music. Yet, somehow
he managed to fall in with Fela Kuti, who was not particularly inclined towards
Europeans appropriators, only to alienate the musician-activist by joining the Nigerian
ruling class’s Polo Club (that part Palmer misses out on).
fact, polo has often been the downfall of Mr. Baker. Those ponies are expensive and they draw the
attention of tax inspectors like a magnet.
Still, the polo club Baker founded in Colorado and the jazz concerts his
group gave after matches emerges in Bulger’s account as a brief high point in
the drummer’s chaotic life.
not Bulger’s uppermost concern, Beware makes
a compelling case on behalf of Colorado’s local jazz talent. If you can satisfy Ginger Baker, than you can
play with anyone. In fact, he had a
great ear, recruiting excellent musicians like Fred Hess and trumpeter Ron
Miles, who also appears as an interview subject. Of course, most of the film’s potential
audience will be more interested in the likes of Clapton, Steve Winwood, Stones
drummer Charlie Watts, Cream bassist Jack Bruce, Johnny Rotten, Lars Ulrich, Stewart
Copeland, Femi Kuti, and various ex-wives.
If there is anyone Bulger couldn’t get, they aren’t missed.
There is something perversely inspiring about
Baker’s resiliency. He keeps doing it his way, regardless of the
consequences. Beware captures all the madness of the Ginger Baker experience, but
Bulger tries his best not to let it overshadow the music. Naturally, Baker is often his own worst enemy
in this respect. Yet, somehow viewers
will want to listen to Baker’s classic tracks after witnessing his spectacularly
anti-social behavior. That is a neat
trick Bulger deserves mucho credit for pulling off. A thoroughly entertaining documentary chocked
full of unforgettable headshaking, face-palming moments, Beware of Mr. Baker is recommended for fans of rock, jazz, world
music, and all around excess when it opens this Wednesday (11/28) at New York’s
Labels: Cream, Denver jazz, Documentary, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker