It was a British doubleheader for me on Wednesday night in Minneapolis: the opening set by Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion at the Dakota Jazz Club and then U.K. soul singer Alice Russell at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Baker, 74, is a rock hero for drumming with Cream and Blind Faith back when his bandmate Eric Clapton was declared a guitar god. However, jazz is Baker's first love, as he demonstrated at the Dakota with his quartet that included saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, known for his work with Van Morrison and James Brown, and bassist Alec Dankworth, son of jazz stars Cleo Laine and John Dankworth.
In their first set, the group played tunes by Wayne Shorter, Ron Miles, Ellis and Baker. The players are simpatico, as Ellis’ sax lines were echoed by Dankworth’s bass, and Baker drummed in polyrhythmic tandem with percussionist Abass Dodoo. The most rewarding aspect of the set was Ellis’ warm, even tone.
Over at the Cedar, Russell, 38, was a soul stirrer in full blossom despite a modest crowd of maybe 150 people. She’s a star in England but little known in the States. She deserves to be as well-known as Adele and Amy Winehouse.
Backed by a four-man band, Russell came across like Adele channeling Donna Summer fronting the TC Jammers in the disco-funk era. She was both a powerful soul shouter and a balladeer with a soft, sexy voice. She exploded on the stomping rocker “To Dust” like a soulful Pat Benatar.
Afterward, Russell declared politely: “There’s some therapy right there.”
Most of set was drawn from Russell’s 2013 album, “To Dust,” though the tunes felt more organic live than on the smartly produced modern-soul disc. However, the material was not as impactful as the performance. As a vocalist, Russell is something special.
Here is her set list from the Cedar:
Heartbreaker Pt 2/ Heartbreaker/ Twin Peaks/ Citizens/ For a While/ Let Us Be Loving/ Hard and Strong/ To Dust/ I Loved You/ Living the Life of a Dreamer/ Fly in the Hand/ Lazer ENCORE Got the Hunger/ Dressed to Impress