CREAM — Fresh Cream

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CREAM - Fresh Cream cover
3.20 | 8 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 1966

Filed under Jazz Related Rock


A1 N.S.U.
A2 Sleepy Time Time
A3 Dreaming
A4 Sweet Wine
A5 Spoonful
B1 Cat's Squirrel
B2 Four Until Late
B3 Rollin' And Tumblin'
B4 I'm So Glad
B5 Toad

Total Time: 41:07


Eric Clapton / guitars, vocal
Jack Bruce / bass, harmonica, vocals
Ginger Baker / drums, vocals

About this release

Reaction ‎– 593001 (UK)

The band began recording at Rayrik Studios in London's Chalk Farm in the summer of 1966 (from which Wrapping Paper and The Coffee Song resulted). The core of the album work was completed at Ryemuse Studios, Sth. Moulten St., London in Sep-Nov '66 - with Timperley engineering at both studios

Thanks to snobb, Chicapah for the updates


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I can hear some of you grumbling right now. “Cream is jazz-related? Have you guys at JMA lost your marbles?” Not entirely (the whole sanity thing is still up for debate) yet your knee-jerk reaction is not without some merit, especially if you base it on 90% of their studio work. I believe they’ve earned their place in jazz history solely on the effect their live performances, almost non-stop spontaneity from beginning to end, had on most everyone. While their devout devotion to and love for African-American blues is obvious on every one of their four major albums, they quickly grew tired of the inherent restrictions that simple genre imposed on their stage shows. When they began to vamp freely in front of their audiences without a rigid structure impeding their impromptu creativity they inadvertently brought one of jazz music’s greatest assets into the rock arena; improvisation. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker knew just enough about jazz to be dangerous to the status quo but the level of acceptance by the general public of their long-winded jams was something that no one could’ve predicted. It wasn’t sex appeal or spectacular props or poppy, cute hit singles that drew SRO crowds to their shows. It was the potential for witnessing something transcendent and/or earth-shaking occurring between the three players as they fed off each other’s energy that attracted the multitudes. And that rare quality of being able to conjure up magnificent magic on any given night, my friends, is one of the fundamental ingredients of jazz.

While Clapton’s divinity was an accepted fact in the streets and subways of London in the mid 60s, he was relatively unknown stateside so when it was announced that a “supergroup” consisting of him and two other faceless Brits had formed that news was met with an apathetic yawn. Super who? Seemed like there was a new English band crossing the Atlantic every other day so why should these hairy dudes be considered anything special? The proof would be, as always, in the pudding. My musician friend/advisor Rick Cramer told me about Cream early in ’67, relating that he’d heard that, as a unit, they could play over 100 different instruments. Such exaggerated gossip about burgeoning groups was rampant in that information-challenged era but I was intrigued nonetheless by the concept of a power trio. I went out and spent a month’s allowance on this debut LP and it was worth every cent. Cream’s unique way of reinventing the blues and blending it with psychedelic rock mannerisms enthralled my teenage mind instantly. It had the very same effect on millions of my peers.

Interestingly, they open their first record with one of their more jazzy numbers, Bruce’s “I Feel Free.” Following a big, fat major seventh chord Eric scat-sings some cool bomp-bomps while Jack hums the memorable melody over him. The production that stuck their close harmonies way out front where Ginger’s tambourine was actually louder than the guitar, bass and drums was radical, as well. Nobody else was doing anything like that. Clapton’s solo is an odd mixture of jazz and blues but it’s Bruce’s excited vocal on the soulful descending stops that serves as the song’s crowning moment. “N.S.U.” is next wherein Baker’s tribal drum beat leads to the sort of tune they would later expand to enormous dimensions under the hot klieg lights. Its highly unorthodox arrangement is kitschy as all get out but Eric’s brittle-as-antique-glass guitar tone belittles his contribution to this track. The slower “Sleepy Time Time” is an example of how their novel approach to a standard blues vehicle shook up the rock & roll universe. It’s as if they were intentionally trying to be egregious and draw a dark line between themselves and all the other UK blues outfits they’d been part of. Clapton’s exquisite ride is delicate but penetrating as he shows off his graceful finesse. “Dreaming” is Jack’s idea of a ballad, I guess, but its strange, trippy aura didn’t age well and it comes off more like a bold experiment that failed than anything else. Ginger’s “Sweet Wine” begins like a corny, catchy pop ditty but then it veers away into a jazzier progression before Eric takes off on an extended lead. He fills the space around him with hot licks backed by incidental, controlled feedback spasms. The song closes with the cheerful bop-bops it opened with.

“Cat’s Squirrel” is a loose but spirited rendition of an anonymously-penned Delta blues tune where the guitar and Bruce’s harmonica double up on the central melody. Jack’s surprising vocal interlude midway through provides a welcome, tension-easing break but I find the whole shebang to be irritatingly repetitive. Their take on Robert Johnson’s “Four Until Late” follows and over time it became my favorite cut. Their smooth, cruising groove is almost C&W in feel but the forceful harp keeps it from becoming bland and Clapton’s svelte voice makes it a pleasant experience. The track I always skipped over, though, is their monotonous, tinny version of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” The lack of a bass line keeps the song’s timbre shackled in a midrange prison and it loses its congeniality before the one minute mark. I can appreciate their adoration for authentic dirt-floor blues but this has never been my idea of a good time. “I’m So Glad” is a real oddball number but typical of their slightly off-kilter mindset. Only this trio could’ve constructed a tune as eclectic as this and make it work so well. It offers yet another glimpse of the pattern of verse/chorus/long instrumental section/verse/chorus that would lend itself perfectly to their live persona but also eventually box them into a corner. Baker’s “Toad” is a landmark because it was one of the first instrumentals that turned the spotlight’s glare onto the drum kit for a change. It, as one would expect, hasn’t much to offer in the music department because the brief rockin’ riffs from Jack and Eric are only a means to the end that is the elephant rumble of Ginger’s mauling multiple tubs. After this got some FM airplay every garage band drummer on the planet felt he was now entitled to treat his fans & family to five or ten minutes of uninterrupted noise while the other musicians went out for a smoke. A win-win situation if there ever was one.

Going back to the jazz-or-not-jazz dilemma concerning this iconic group, it must be pointed out that, of the three, it’s Ginger Baker who should get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the jazz aspect into their sound. He didn’t play the way most rock & roll stickmen did in that he intended on being an equal part of the music rather than simply being the metronomic pace setter. It was his influence that kept Cream from being just another bunch of dirty blues addicts imitating their heroes. In contrast to Clapton's and Bruce’s insistence on blues authenticity Baker slipped in the secret ingredients of jazzy drum rolls and subtle accents, initiating a new way of interpreting and deconstructing the fundamental black American sound that had so mesmerized the British Isles’ baby boomer generation. While this album should be justifiably lauded as groundbreaking in any blues aficionado’s book, it’ll probably lack appeal for many in the jazz community and, therefore, is not particularly essential. But very few would be so foolish as to deny the huge impact this threesome had on modern music in general.

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