Tumi Mogorosi

Group Theory: Black Music
(Mushroom Hour/New Soil)

Drummer Tumi Mogorosi is a strong, representational presence on Johannesburg’s jazz scene. Locally, he has played with the Amandla Freedom Ensemble and Ariel Zamonsky, and he has also collaborated with Italian guitarist Nicola Conte and English saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. Group Theory: Black Music, his second record as a leader, solidifies an aesthetic that simultaneously expresses homegrown roots and a consciousness of work done in distant parts of the African diaspora.

Before Mogorosi ever picked up sticks, he was a chorister, and Group Theory: Black Music owes much to that early experience. Like its predecessor, Project Elo, the album’s arrangements combine the streamlined sound of his combo with choral singing, adding massive, wordless unisons to nearly every track.

When guest lead vocalists step to the fore on three tracks, the center of gravity shifts. Guest pianist Andile Yenana’s fluid accompaniment lifts up Siya Mthembu’s mournful treatment of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”; Tumi Mogorosi’s gentler delivery brings a welcome dose of ambiguity to the tune’s reprise later in the album. The kaleidoscopic imagery of Lesolo Rampolokeng’s rap amplifies that mystery on the abstract closer, “Where Are The Keys.” And the instrumental passages offer compensations. But, for the most part, the choral voices are such a dominating presence that it’s hard to imagine anyone having a neutral response.