Tumi Mogorosi mixes jazz and choral music in Group Theory: Black Music – review

Drummer Tumi Mogorosi, an established presence in South African jazz, adds township subtleties to the polyrhythmic fire of modernist greats. Recent projects have taken a more down-to-earth course, first powering Shabaka Hutchings’ band Ancestors and more recently delivering spirited alternative rock with South African powerhouse trio The Wretched, who have released their debut album. What is the story in 2020.

This album returns to Mogorosi’s stylistic roots with a vibrant blend of choral music and fiery quintet jazz. The music is clearly rooted in the 1960s – the liner note quote, “This is black music: find yourself then kill it”, is taken from the late poet Amiri Baraka’s notes for the Impulse from 1965! album The new wave of jazz. But this is not a return to the past, but rather the use of an earlier aesthetic to address the contemporary concerns of the black diaspora.

The ensemble, made up of a nine-voice choir, draws on the jazz choral tradition of Max Roach It’s time and Andrew Hill Raise every voice. This adds lyrical power to the leader’s angular, modal-modernist themes and lends strong vocal support to the powerful trumpet and saxophone solos.

The program begins with the horns and vocals of “Wadada” triumphing over gospel chords and “The Fall” shifting ominously from modality to swing; the piece suddenly ends with a three-note hit. “Panic Manic” shifts into high gear and, encouraged by the fine pulsation of the leader, the soloists stretch. Tumi Pheko’s spiny, melodic trumpet style contrasts nicely with the rich, full tones of alto saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu, and guitarist Reza Khota delivers contemporary harmonies with a resonant tone.

Elsewhere, choir and group intertwine and there are two vocal covers of “Sometimes I feel like a child without a mother”, one with Gabi Motuba and a beautiful solo guitar, the other Siya Mthembu accompanied by the fluidity and the warmth of pianist Andile Yenana. “Where Are the Keys” is the final track, a chilling depiction of frustration and rage between jazz and poetry, made all the more imposing by the intensity of Yenana’s piano backing.

★★★★☆

Group theory: black musicis published by Mushroom Hour/New Soil

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