DOWN FREEDOM AVENUE (BW051/BWR051)
With the advent of a new political dawn in South Africa, the vibrant musical tradition of the townships is now emerging onto a world-wider stage. Sipho Gumede's first recording for B&W Music is the latest result of rich vein of music mined by the jazz fraternity of Durban that includes Darius Brubeck and Chris Merz of Counterculture. The album conveys the turbulence and pain of a nation straining to be reborn.
From the beginning of track one, Sipho Gumede's masterful bass playing dictates the direction of the playing, with Baba Serakoeng caressing sweet runs from the upper register of his guitar and Sithembiso Ntuli letting fly on tenor sax. 'Ngiyabonga Thanking You' provides a platform for Sbongiseni Shange and son, with Faca Kulu and the assembled Zulu choir of the Challengers to explore the kind of territory made familiar by Ladysmith Black Mombaza.
'Song For Johnny Dyani' is a masterpiece of mellow, plaintive jazz with lyrical guitar playing from Baba Mokoene, sensitively supported on keyboards by Barney Bophela with Chris Merz' soprano sax giving voice to the emotion of the tune, rendering vocals unnecessary. Johnny must have been quite a guy.
The sinuous, insistent rhythm of 'Please Don't Dance' allows the funkier side of the band to assert itself, with Sbongiseni Shange's delightful drumming to the fore. The teasing guitar of 'Nozipho, the Dancer' makes this cut the obvious choice for a single.
Seven tracks in, the haunting vocals of Sthembiso Shange mark out 'Hlabelela, Just Sing' as a classic while the choir transports you to heaven. Welcome to a new South African standard.
'Village Lullaby' is the sound of home, a reminder that even under oppression mothers must still care for their children, seasons arrive and depart and the eternal wheel keeps turning.
A native hymn of praise, 'African Wedding' uses tribal drums and voices to capture the occasion. 'Country Side' is a fitting conclusion to the album, laying down the arm colours of the Natal landscape using Matume Rachabane's muscular alto sax and virtuoso piano playing from Barney Bophela.
The listener is left with a rolling landscape of sound, etched with optimism of a people emerging from political darkness, marching step by step as the lights go on Down Freedom Avenue.
Track Listing (30 Second Samples)
1. DOWN FREEDOM AVENUE
2. GODFATHER SPECIAL
3. NGIYABONGA (THANKING YOU)
4. SONG FOR JONNY DYANI
5. PLEASE DON'T DANCE
6. NOZIPHO THE DANCER
7. HLABELELA (JUST SING)
8. VILLAGE LULLABYE
9. AFRICAN WEDDING
10. COUNTRY SIDE
Sipho Gumede Bass, keyboards, percussion
Ricky van Heerden Alto sax
Sithembiso Ntuli Tenor sax
Chris Merz Soprano/tenor saxes
Mtumbe Rachabane Alto sax
Mr Rain Flugel horn
Mfaniseni Thusi Trombone
Baba Mokoene Guitar
Barney Bophela Keyboards
Sbongiseni Shange, Jr. Drums, backing vocals
Mandla MBabhi Percussion
Sthembiso Shange Lead voice
Faca Kulu Backing vocals
The Challengers Backing vocals