Ginger Baker Trio
Falling Off the Roof

You can take the drummer out of the rock band, but can you take the rock out of the drummer? On Falling Off the Roof, Baker explores that question once again, with bass compass man Charlie Haden and six-string cartographer Bill Frisell along for the ride. Native guide Bela Fleck is on hand to steer the expedition well clear of boredom with his funky pluck.

The Ginger Baker Trio's debut last year was much heralded, but jazz retains its perplexity for Baker, who in the '70s was often reviled by jazz drummers for his combative, ego-drenched pronouncements and hit-or-miss attempts to play in their form. Baker is far better known for his work with Eric Clapton and Cream. While Baker swings better than Charlie Watts, his jazz success and the success of this album is owed strictly to his jazz veteran sidemen.

Throughout Falling Off the Roof, Baker shows off his falling-down-the-stairs-ker-whubbledywhump drumming as Frisell stretches out in his usual genre-slashing style, his slinky fretwork moving listeners through the narrow passages of Haden's soft, directed opus "Sunday at the Hillcrest," the herky-jerky swing of Monk's "Bemsha Swing," and a light cover of Parker's "Au Private."

The production here puts the drums on top--no surprise, but unless you're a huge Beach Boys fan or a regular listener of Ludwig Drums Presents Audio How-To Drum Rolls, it demands an adjustment you might not find comfortable. Haden, by the way, is nearly invisible on bass, but scores a terrific assist. When the drummer and guitarist are off on a mission, someone has to hold down the fort.

--Brendan Doherty

Various artists
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:
Special 25th Anniversary Edition Soundtrack

Baby Boomers think they cornered the market on psychedelic inspiration in the '60s with fine artists such as Peter Max and Peter Blake, filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni (Blowup) and Roger Corman (The Trip), and such rockers as the sadly forgotten Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the vastly overrated Grateful Dead. But some of those pioneering acid-acolytes cleaned up, trimmed their hair and got jobs in the "straight" world, sometimes in the field of children's entertainment. They brought with them their hallucinogenic perspectives and proceeded to warp the consciousness of the post-Boom, pre-X generation.

Witness the incredibly strange "efelumps and woosels" nightmare in the short film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968). Even the animated Peanuts gang got into the act with Snoopy's bebop-scored Joe Cool daydreams and Linus' delusional Great Pumpkin monologue, sampled by psychedelic rappers P.M. Dawn on 1995's Jesus Wept.

But musically, the very best psychedelic kid stuff was the score for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 film based on Roald Dahl's children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Written by Leslie Bricusse and scenery-chomping English theater vet Anthony Newley (who was soon to be cited as a major glam-rock influence by David Bowie), the soundtrack is a scrumdidilyumptious treat that sounds safe and conventional in an old-fashioned Hollywood-musical way--half the songs are full of swelling strings and fluttery flutes--while packing some mightily subversive messages about the power of "Pure Imagination," to borrow the title of the theme song.

And the film's director, Mel Stuart, provided brilliantly surreal images: Who can forget poor Violet Beauregarde turning into a giant blueberry or those little orange Oompa Loompas forming human mandalas? But the 25th-anniversary edition of the album, just released on MCA's Hip-O reissues label, is even better because it leaves more to your imagination, pure or otherwise. In fact, it's easy to project that the weirder effects--and synth-laden tunes powering the foam-spewing "Wonkamobile," "The Bubble Machine," "Wonkavision" and the Venus-bound "Wonkavator"--are musical re-creations of hallucinogenic drug trips. Gene Wilder as Wonka even does a rap on "The Wondrous Boat Ride" that's equal parts Tim Leary, Ken Kesey and Alan Watts.

"There's no earthly way of knowing/Which direction we are going," Wilder chants when Charlie and the others enter a tunnel illuminated by explosions of color to rival the Joshua Light Show. "Is it raining?/Is it snowing?/Is a hurricane a-blowing?" The tune and the bad trip end abruptly when everyone emerges from the dark and mysterious passageway into a vivid, candy-colored wonderland. Talk about evoking your spiritual rebirth and the journey toward the white light.

Even the film's classic signature tune, "The Candy Man," seems to have a double meaning. It may be more obvious in the sleazy cover by Sammy Davis Jr., but the subtext of a pusher working the playground is also present in the unnaturally cheerful original. "Who can take a rainbow/Wrap it in a sigh/Soak it in the sun/And make a strawberry-lemon pie?" is the rhetorical question. Answer: "The candy man can, because he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good." Better living through chemistry, indeed--and don't forget that many a batch of blotter paper was soaked in LSD-25 and dubbed "Yellow Sunshine."

I don't mean to ruin the album for conservatives who think this is all G-rated fun and games, and by no means is the druggy reading necessary to appreciate its charms. But kids pick up on the damnedest things, internalize them, and spew them back later in life. Why do you think one of Chicago's best bands took the name of Wonka brat Veruca Salt? And surely it's no coincidence that the Butthole Surfers' "Pepper" sounds like a distorted, slowed-down version of the "Oompa Loompa" song. Those tangerine-colored dwarfs gave us not only an absurdly catchy ditty but an enticing Zen-existentialist philosophy: "Oompa Loompa doom-pity-da/If you're not greedy you will go far/You will live in happiness too/Like the Oompa Loompa doom-pity do." Those sound like words to live by, as well as the psychedelic ideal: Tune in, turn on, drop out. The candy man can.

--Jim DeRogatis



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