Glasgow Jazz Festival
An Evening With Ginger Baker ***
Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
Ginger Baker, the legendary, infamously volatile drummer who powered Cream and much else, is now 77 and a sick man, his incurable pulmonary disease the result of heavy smoking, he admitted, abjuring an enthusiastically devoted audience to kick the habit. In consequence, his set with his Jazz Confusion band – with the formidable Ghanaian percussion Abass Dodoo, Alec Dankworth on bass, and one-time James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis – was sadly abbreviated.
Despite his evident frailty – he had to be assisted to and from his kit – the monumentally gaunt Baker still presided with authority, hi-hat ticking off the beat with hypnotic precision as he exchanged forceful, polyrhythmic crossfire with Dodoo’s booming congas and hissing percussive gewgaws. Ellis delivered stentorian, no-nonsense sax statements that bookended numbers such as the North-African-accented Aïn Témouchent (recalling the time Baker drove off an Algerian mountainside) and the slyly titled Ginger Spice.
After an early interval Baker returned for a Q&A session in which he attempted to decode effusive Glasgow accents and respond with anecdotes ranging from being greeted by a military escort at Lagos airport to his penchant for polo. Unwisely chosen queries were summarily dismissed.
This at times farcical session was terminated by a fourth and final number, Why? – Baker’s questioning of his disaster-prone life, set to a lumbering Afro-beat, the audience yelling that one-word refrain. One couldn’t help thinking that it should really be How? he still manages to play at all.
Tony Allen Tribute to Art Blakey ****
Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
The 31st edition of the Glasgow Jazz Festival was all about the drummers, with a tribute to Buddy Rich from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, a headline show from Cream legend Ginger Baker and the double whammy of Afrofunk pioneer Tony Allen, a veteran of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band, paying tribute to his chief inspiration Art Blakey, who toured West Africa in the 1940s, absorbing some of its indigenous traditions into his hard bop repertoire.
Allen is as cool as Baker is cantankerous and his reading of his hero’s canon was melodic, accessible, elastic and generally less hectic than Blakey’s bebop excursions. His quartet kicked off with the appropriately named Invitation, reeling in the late night crowd with soft piano chords from Jean Phi Dary, the seductive, easygoing sax of Irving Acao, Mathias Allamane’s steady bass rumble and Allen’s effortlessly lithe shapes.
His fellow players all got their moments to shine before Allen unleashed his moves, but together they were stronger, blending smoky sax, plangent bass and undulating piano on Politely which became ever more insistent before spinning off into freer territory. Dary indulged in a spot of scat and some call-and-response with himself on acoustic and electric piano simultaneously.
The glorious Moanin’ was more teasing than vibrant before one final blast of that sassy sax refrain but, suitably seduced, the audience did not need to be asked twice to dance in front of the stage to the rhythms of one funky maestro as interpreted by another.
The Bevvy Sisters ****
It’s not often that you go to a gig and are captivated right from the opening notes – but that’s what happened on Saturday night when The Bevvy Sisters – Gina Rae, Heather Macleod and Louise Murphy – took to the stage in the Drygate (surely the most appropriately named venue they have ever played?) in Glasgow’s East End.
This vocal trio’s opener, a work song entitled Bring Me a Little Water Sylvie, immediately introduced their gorgeous close harmonies and velvety voices. It was impossible to resist, especially with Macleod’s bluesy and unaffected style as featured singer.
That song set an impossibly high bar for the rest of the concert, which featured a genre-spanning selection of music and each of the three Bevvies – plus their impressive guitarist, David Donnelly – taking turns singing the lead. The follow-up number, See-Line Woman, might not have been as mesmerising but it got the party atmosphere going a bit, especially when permission for participation was granted – “Go on, bash the tables – it’s a Saturday night in Glasgow!”
The Drygate – which feels like a cosier, less barn-like version of the Fruitmarket and is similar in size and lay-out to Oran Mor – was perfect for a group this size.
Other stand-outs included Alicia Keys’s Some People which was a bit of a tour-de-force for the dazzlingly lovely voice of Louise Murphy (aka Baby Bevvy?) and Love Me Like a River, a sultry ballad by Melody Gardot, whose music seems particularly well suited to this group.