Listening to the hauntingly beautiful African Sunrise, released several months after Sipho Gumede's death, one can understand why Gumede is held up as one of South Africa's great musicians. His fat, warm bass sound, his compositional gifts, his genre-defying musical creativity, and his skills as a band leader are all in full bloom here.
The album's tracks are drawn from four different sources: a collaboration Gumede had been working on with guitarist Ernie Smith; tracks recorded for Outernational Meltdown on the MELT label; unreleased tracks for Best of Part 1 for Sheer Sound records; and a remix of "Peacocks Today, Feather Dusters Tomorrow by D Rex. While the notion of an album culled from these unfinished projects might unnerve some, the musical product is one of Gumede's finest collections in recent years.
Opening the album is "Straight Home, a pared-down collaboration between Gumede and Ernie Smith. Smith showcases his crisp, clean guitar sound with long, looping melodies buoyed by Gumede's supportive yet lyrical counterpoint. While Ernie Smith has established himself as a solid and enjoyable R&B-inflected jazzman a la Jonathan Butler, it is a welcome change to hear him lay back and simply play guitarGumede seems to bring out the best in him.
The album has a number of other highlights. "African Sunrise, a slow, thoughtful piece driven by an mbira-like electric piano riff, opens slowly and gently into a climactic bass solo. "Peacocks Today, Feather Dusters Tomorrow, the remix track, is a change from much of Gumede's work. It opens with an ambient house beat, over which Gumede solosan odd addition to his body of work, but highly enjoyable (if you like it, check out the fantastic South African House compilation Cape Town, 2 a.m.). Finally, "Limpopo Jive features guitarist Louis Mhlanga's choked mbaqanga guitar riffs and Mandla Masuku's staccato alto saxophone statements as nice contrasts to Gumede's richer, smoother bass sound.
However, the album's crowning track is "Song for Johnny Dyani, made all the more poignant now. Gumede takes the lead with a beautiful high-register bass solo, throwing Dyani-like riffs into his own solo. While one may question how Johnny Dyani might feel about an electric bass tribute, it nevertheless makes a great deal of sense that a tribute should come from Gumede: both bassists had warm, rich tones, were capable of highly lyrical and thoughtful solos, and were also talented composers and vocalists.
Gumede was taken from the world far too soon, and the music on African Sunrise only hints at the sort of albums he had yet to record. However, if this release leaves you wanting more, Sheer Sound has also released two volumes of Sipho Gumede's greatest hits.
Straight Home; Phambili; A Whisper; African Sunrise; Peacocks Today, Feather Dusters
Tomorrow; Song for a Friend; Welcome Home; Song for Johnny Dyani; Limpopo Jive;
Sipho Gumede: bass, vocals, programming, keyboards; Ernie Smith: guitar, programming,
keyboards, vocals; Paul Kock: saxophone; Leonard Rachabane: soprano saxophone;
Mandla Masuku: alto saxophone; Sithembiso Ntuli: tenor saxophone; Byron Wallen:
trumpet; Baba Mokoena: guitar; Jose Neto: guitar; Sibongiseni Shange: drums; Mabi
Thobejane: percussion; Faca Khulu: vocals; Themba Mntambo: vocals; Lindiwe Ngwane:
vocals; Tsidi Manye: vocals; Nonhlanhla Ngcobo: vocals; Xoli Nkosi: electric piano; Moses
Khumalo: alto saxophone; Rob Watson: drums; Louis Mhlanga: guitar; Sydney Mavudla:
trumpet; Godfrey Mcina: percussion; Manny Rodriguez: piano and strings; Martin Walters:
drum programming; d rex: re-mix; Nick De-Gee: bass; Andrew Missingham: drums.
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