Asher Gamedze - Dialectic Soul Music Album Reviews

Blending free jazz with South African protest music and rigorous academic study, the Cape Town drummer connects jazz tradition to contemporary oppression, and points a way forward for the music.

Asher Gamedze’s Dialectic Soul attempts to fuse the cerebral with the elemental by finding points of connection between the American and South African jazz traditions. If this sounds like the opening of a master’s thesis, that’s because it is. Gamedze, who was introduced to American audiences through his work on Angel Bat Dawid’s The Oracle, originally planned to submit this album along with his dissertation on South African jazz. The academic provenance of the work is reflected in its liner notes, which contain a schema for understanding the record and an introductory essay from historian and critic Robin D. G. Kelley. But the music is much more approachable than its intimidating supporting texts. By blending free-jazz excursions with South African protest music, Gamedze and his collaborators make the heady intimate and the complex intuitive: The music they play here expresses both the jubilation and the terror inherent in jazz creation.
According to Gamedze, the “state of emergence suite” that makes up the first third of the album attempts to represent how colonial violence generates resistance. The song’s tripartite structure is as indebted to Max Roach as it is to G. W. F. Hegel (its three parts are named after the dialectic: “thesis,” “antithesis,” and “synthesis.”) We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite also contained a three-parter, “Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace,” that attempted to link American racism and colonialism. This is not the only connection the two artists share. Both use free-form drums in duet with another instrument to represent a particular conflict in the Black experience. Think Abbey Lincoln’s screams matching the anger of Roach’s drums on “Protest. ” For Gamedze, “solo drums in free time symbolise autonomous African motion, moving through and resolving its own contradictions.” The opening duet of the “state of emergence suite” puts this idea into practice; in the “thesis” section, his drums seemingly deflect all points of entry for Buddy Wells’ tenor sax. But this is not obfuscation, it’s determination. Wells’ sax, which, according to Gamedze, “introduces the violence of colonialism,” cannot conquer the tireless roving drums.

Gamedze’s commitment to unceasing change characterizes the remainder of the album; his drumming refuses to stand still in history, leaving the other players to draw their own distinct narratives around it. The rest of the “state of emergence suite” is a mixture of modal wanderings and percussive chaos. Robin Fassie-Kock’s trumpet and Wells’ sax fuse together only to break when interrupted by Gamedze’s throbbing drums and Thembinkosi Mavimbela’s darting bass. The horns seemingly unite against this fury by splitting apart. Fassie-Kock plays Eric Dolphy-like intonations on his trumpet, where each sound takes the listener to a more astral space through its dilation. Wells’ sax slowly warps; its notes expand until their shape seems unnatural. It feels like watching firefighters slowly surround a building wracked by an ever expanding flame; as they douse water in every direction, you marvel at the fact that the structure still stands.

This may be due to Gamedze’s search for connections between Western innovations and African tradition. He builds a syncretic edifice: His heroes are constantly remembered. On “eternality,” a bebop number that loses itself in the wind, Fassie-Kock’s trumpet will lie low, stab in the air, and twirl endlessly, its sound reflecting the capacious attitude of its player. The song’s menacing horns and Art Blakey drum patterns give it the melancholy atmosphere of modal records of yore, yet its combustive nature and sometimes atonal solos bring to mind the experiments of Ornette Coleman. It’s an ecumenical elegy to past legends strung together with their contributions. Yet Gamedze is not satisfied with homage; he is concerned with how the oppression that generated the music he loves is carried with us in the present. “hope in azania” comes from the South African liberation tradition. Its joyful melody belies the fact that it is crucially a song about being underfoot. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the glowing timbre of its united horns and the bouncy nature of its bass. But if you follow the path of Gamedze’s drums, which rush and clatter without wavering in their intensity for even a moment, you can hear the rage underlying the jovial mood.


Gamedze’s drumming seemingly halts for no one; the closest he comes to stopping is on the album’s other song of remembrance, and the record’s most spiritual cut, “siyabulela.” Its percussion glitters, its horns are muted, and its tempo is slowed all the way down. The song is one of gratitude and acceptance, and it hinges on the voice of Nono Nkoane. Gamedze takes a marching rhythm here, appropriate for the memorial nature of the procession (he was inspired to write a version after hearing the song at a friend’s funeral). He increases tempo for a final solo of gratitude; it’s an attempt to make a noise that cannot be forgotten.

It sometimes seems like contemporary jazz musicians only have two options—mimic what worked in the past or plumb the uncharted depths of left-field improvisation. Here, Gamedze shows that a third option is available: pursue the links between past and present. By fusing rigorous academic study with his musical practice, Gamedze connects jazz tradition to contemporary oppression. He does not merely lionize old jazz masters; he argues that their restricted circumstances necessitated revolutionary departures of form. The rapturous possibility that lies at the heart of Dialectic Soul comes from a recognition of this fact: If past fetters still bind us in the present, we can find new ways to free ourselves.
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Asher Gamedze - Dialectic Soul Music Album Reviews Asher Gamedze - Dialectic Soul Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 Rating:

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