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Music DVD Review: Air Force – Live 1970

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Ginger Baker’s legacy as one of the signature drummers of the rock era is secure. His time with Cream and Blind Faith elevated him to the top of the drumming fraternity. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with his Cream bandmates, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce at the 1993 induction ceremony.

When Blind Faith dissolved, his first project would be the formation of Air Force. Their first self titled album was a double vinyl, live affair. Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Denny Laine, Graham Bond, Chris Wood, and a backing brass and vocal section would all be on stage. It would fuse rock, jazz, and African rhythms together into an interesting and creative mix. Their second studio album, minus Winwood and Laine, would be a more mundane affair and shortly afterward Air Force would be gone.

Live 1970 catches the band near the end of their career. They was in Europe to be recorded for German television. They were live in the studio but without an audience. They recorded 51 minutes worth of music which was severely edited for the October 20, 1970 broadcast. The full concert has rarely been seen but now returns in its entirety in DVD form. Live Air Force material is extremely rare so this is a welcome addition to the group’s and Baker’s catalogue.

This was third and final incarnation of the band. Joining Baker are vocalist/organist/saxophonist Graham Bond, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Ken Craddock, sax/flutist Steve Gregory, sax player Bud Beadle, bassist Colin Gibson, vocalists Aliki Ashman & Diane Stewart, and conga player Speedy Acquaye.

The performance is heavy on the jazz. It is the brass that really drives the sound; for example the saxophones play Clapton’s guitar parts on the classic “Sunshine Of Your Love.”

Almost half of the concert was taken up with the long and sprawling “Early In The Morning/Sunshine Of Your Love” medley which clocks in at just less than 22 minutes. All the musicians step forward to take a solo.

The last four tracks are more of the same. They record another version of “Sunshine Of Your Love,” which was very similar to the one contained in their medley. The backing vocals by Ashman and Stewart serve to connect the different parts of the songs.

The real treat is the appearance of Graham Bond. He was one of the early important figures of British rhythm & blues. His Graham Bond Organization was one of the early proponents of a blues/rock fusion and would be a training ground for Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. Here, he was nearing the end of his life as he would pass away during May of 1974. His vocals and particularly his sax work present why he was an important, if often forgotten figure, in the development of The British blues.

Live 1970 may not be earth shattering but presents Ginger Baker back in his jazz comfort zone. Baker would relocate to South Africa and continue to emerge in various bands as the years passed. Air Force remains one of his better creations.

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