Asher Gamedze – Turbulence and Pulse
(International Anthem IARC0057. CD/vinyl/download. Album review by Jon Turney)
South African drummer and activist Asher Gamedze strives to unite his activism and his music-making. So this stirring new recording opens with a manifesto-style track in which he tells us, essentially, that this kind of music shows people how to construct their own sense of time, collectively, and that this should inspire listeners to work together politically to forge their own futures.
That would be a fine thing, but even if the results don’t quite pan out like that, it is an inspiring set. “Turbulence and pulse” is a phrase one critic used to describe Gamedze’s drumming on his striking debut, Dialectic Soul, from 2020. The drummer, who does indeed keep immaculate time while maintaining a remarkable freedom in ornamentation around the beat, took it up as a touchstone for the composing and playing he developed for this new set.
The pieces are brought to life by the same core quartet who made such a strong impression on that first recording, with Gamedze joined by Robin Fassie on trumpet, Buddy Wells, tenor saxophone; and the formidably deep toned Thembinkosi Mavimbela on double bass. They combine to create a beautifully poised, rangy ensemble, who deliver unhurried grooves and impassioned solos on a fine set of originals and one arrangement of a South African folk tune, Alibama. That one calls to mind some of Louis Moholo-Moholo’s treatments of old anthems, while the heartfelt tribute to the late Zim Ngqawana, Out Stepped Zim, evokes another high point of South African jazz of recent decades.
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Elsewhere, while retaining that flavour, the power of the hookup between bassist and drummer with two horns soaring over them raises echoes of William Parker’s peerless quartet with Hamid Drake. The instrumental tracks are consistently strong, and Julian ‘Deacon’ Otis’ has an impressive vocal feature on Sometimes I Think to Myself.
A very satisfying record, enhanced by bonus live versions of three of Gamedze’s compositions recorded in Cairo with a quite different line-up, which take them in quite different directions. The whole package is sure to feature on best of 2023 lists.