Guranfoe – Gumbo Gumbo (2022)

Guranfoe - Gumbo Gumbo (2022)
Artist: Guranfoe
Album: Gumbo Gumbo
Genre: Eclectic Prog
Label: Echodelick Records
Year Of Release: 2022
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

Tracklist:
01. Aravalli Wood 5:47
02. Et Alias 12:13
03. Indigo Moon 10:26
04. To The Sun 5:02
05. Django 5:22

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Personnel:
– James Burns / electric guitars, acoustic guitars, 12-string acoustic, bass, piano, synth, Mellotron
– Ollie Snell / electric guitars, acoustic guitars, lap steel guitar
– Robin G. Breeze / bass, baby grand piano, synth, Mellotron, minilogue
– Joe Burns / drums & percussion

With:
– Rob Milne / flute, saxophone
– Rob Baker / lap steel guitar, voice
– Arthur Yann Le Baleur / percussion

I loved Guranfoe’s debut album, so I was expecting to at the very least like this long-awaited second album. I admit a small niggle of doubt, though, based purely on the fact that this is an album clearly rooted in Guranfoe’s own past. The band began as Gumbo Variations, before changing their name to Guranfoe, and it is easy to see Gumbo Gumbo as being “Gumbo (Variations) 2”, as they revisit some of their oldest and earliest performed material. Indeed, you can easily find all of the five tracks that make up this album spread among many of the live recordings on Guranfoe’s Bandcamp page. The show at The Royal Standard, Lowestoft, on 15th December 2012 even has all five, performed in the same order they appear on Gumbo Gumbo. And that is as good a place as any to see how much the band has grown, and how far these new recordings leave the early performances behind. Not least, because Guranfoe have definitely grown into their own sound. As I suggested in my review of the Sum of Erda debut, a lot of their earlier live material was consummately played, but betrayed too much of their influences. It’s not a bad thing, and particularly if one enjoys those influences anyway, but Sum of Erda definitely sounded, to me, more like a band happy in its own skin, so I was wary about the band returning to their beginnings for the second album. I should not have been. This album sounds as gorgeous as its cover art looks.

What we get over these five revisited pieces are some technically brilliant interplay reminiscent of a collision between Zappa and Camel. A fusion of folk, jazz and Canterbury that is as psychedelic as it is prog, intensely melodic and easy to listen to, despite its many intricacies, chord changes and tempo variations. As per my review for the debut, while the guitar playing is an obvious focal point and guide, I can’t help but be entranced by the rhythm section, who hold it all in check, and virtually lead from the rear. As with their debut, the core quartet of Guranfoe is augmented by guest musicians, whose presence is judicious, and therefore impactful rather than intrusive. Too often a guest musician can be distracting to my ears, but this is certainly not the case with Guranfoe. My favourite guest musician on Sum of Erda was Rob Milne, who played flute and clarinet. He’s back again, this time providing flute and saxophone. I absolutely love his contributions.

Listening to the five tracks and comparing them to earlier recordings it is clear that they are not identical. Guranfoe have not simply re-recorded these numbers but added to them, and changed them to reflect how the band sounds now. There has always been a fine line between improvisation and composition to my ears, when it comes to Guranfoe – so it’s potentially misleading to suggest that new material has been written for these pieces, so much as the pieces themselves have evolved. Their origin is recognisable, but certain passages are not. So even those who might claim to know Guranfoe’s discography like the back of their hand (and that would be quite a feat, considering how many releases are available to listen to on Bandcamp) will find something new in these “old” tunes. Ultimately, I still find myself a little ambivalent about Gumbo Gumbo. I absolutely love it, but it’s not going to overtake Sum of Erda in my affections, and I kind of wish Guranfoe had followed up that album with something more along the same lines. On the other hand, it leaves me hanging out for album number three, and holding out hope that I might yet get my wish fulfilled.
Review by nick_h_nz

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