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Good vibes and jazz for the spirit

Album of the year
Tumi Mogorosi – Project Elo

Regrets, musical ones, are an unfortunate part of my life. I regret that I missed my then favourite band, The Pixies, by a day in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1989, when they were at the top of their form. And I also rue that I missed the on top-of-their-game hip-hop experimentalists Anti-Pop Consortium in Atlanta in 2002 – it was their last tour as they split shortly afterwards.

A more recent regret is that I also missed the album launch of jazz drummer extraordinaire Tumi Mogorosi’s Project Elo at the Orbit Jazz Club in Braamfontein in Johannesburg, last year.  

Fortunately Mogorosi will play again (I won’t miss it again) here in Johannesburg and I’ve been able to buy the album on lovely vinyl edition.  Project Elo exemplifies for me what has been one of the finest years for jazz in South Africa in a long time. 

A magnificent The Orbit has played no small role in bringing us our exceptional jazz talent – exploding all of a sudden out of a boring old samey jazz scene. Week after week the classy, artist-centric club has managed to bring us brilliant artists like Mogorosi, Kyle Shepherd, Nduduzo Makhathini, Herbie Tsoaeli, Thandi Ntuli, Kesivan Naidoo, Benjamin Jephta and many more.

As the eloquent sleeve notes on Project Elo say, “when Mogorosi composed this suite for jazz musicians and opera vocalists he had never heard the previous successful attempts by Donald Byrd, Max Roach or Mary Lou Williams to combine these seemingly ‘unfriendly’ aesthetics”. 

Project Elo’s spiritual jazz sees Mogorosi (27) team up with five highly accomplished jazz musicians and four opera singers who studied with him at the Tshwane University of Pretoria. It was recorded live with no overdubs was recorded live in a two days at Peter Auret’s Sumo Sound Studios in Johannesburg. 

The album was released by British label Jazzman Records, and I could pick it up on vinyl. I spoke to Mogorosi at the end of last year and asked where the idea of recording with opera vocalists came from. “The suite was meant to bridge a cultural gap,” he said. “Where I was studying music at the Tshwane University of Pretoria there was an opera school opposite my department, so it was a natural progression.”

It wasn’t difficult for musicians from two seemingly completely different genres get together, Mogorosi said. “As long as the idea of that which is at hand is clear, which in our case on a deep sub-conscious level, was clear. “It made us feel that we had captured an important moment in time.” The sleeve notes make the brave, but valid claim that two of the tracks – Inner Emergence and Slaves Emancipation – channel John Coltrane’s masterpiece, A Love Supreme.

Princess Gabi and Thokozile Queen Mother are dedicated to the most important women in Mogorosi’s life: his partner, Gabi Motuba, who is also one of the opera singers on the album, and his schoolteacher mom, Thokozile, whom he cites as a major influence. “The lyrics were in praise of the earth and women as they continue to be the gateway to life and death,” Mogorosi told me.

The album is rightly being described as “spiritual jazz”. “It is spiritual in terms of vibration and we are working with sound because with it you can reach divine vibration where things around you literally change, so vibration/sound as a means to realign consciousness,” explains Mogorosi. While he doesn’t wear them too heavily he says his “influences are Louis Moholo, Makhaya Ntsoko, Elvin Jones, Brian Blade, as well as art and life beyond music”.

The album has had a lot of love across the world. “It has been a wonder – we’re hoping it helps in addressing issues to build a better society.”

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