Despite the fact that they only managed to stay together for a contentious two years, Cream was so influential that its DNA can be found in much of the rock music that developed over the next four decades. In Jay Bulger’s 2012 documentary Beware of Mr. Baker, Cream is cited as the first prog band, the first supergroup, the first arena rock band, the first jam band, and the first heavy metal group by giants of each of those genres, including Neil Peart, Carlos Santana, and Lars Ulrich. Despite that reluctant fatherhood, however, Ginger Baker has always been a jazz drummer. He’s also always been volatile, cantankerous, and self-destructive, as Bulger’s doc stresses. Bitter, angry, and broke in his self-imposed exile in South Africa, Baker routinely rails at and to anyone who’ll listen. His violent temper manifests in his vigorous drum sound, but behind the kit seems to be the only time when that temper is channeled into a productive avenue.
Baker’s wizened visage, shrouded by cigarette smoke, stares steely-eyed from the cover of his new CD, Why? (Motéma). His first new recording in 16 years, the album marks the debut of his Jazz Confusion quartet, which features former James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, British bassist Alec Dankworth, and Ghanaian percussionist Abadd Dodoo. The band, which will perform at Havana in New Hope on Saturday, incorporates jazz standards by the likes of Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, traditional African music, and the leader’s originals, including the somewhat self-pitying title track. Don’t request any Cream classics if you don’t want something hurled at your head but expect a raucous set built around Baker’s muscular rhythms, which evidence both the wear and the strength of his battle-scarred face.