New from the brilliant mind of South African jazz drummer Tumi Mogorosi comes Group Theory: Black Music, an album released via Mushroom Hour Half Hour and New Soil. A frequent collaborator with fellow leaders in the genre, such as Shabaka Hutchings and The Wretched, Mogorosi’s album is his first as a bandleader since his 2014 record Elo, and Group Theory is just as powerful.
Group Theory tells the tale of a shared experience among Black people, one of pain and sorrow, but also one of inspiration, empowerment, and survival. Beginning with “Wadada,” the record is introduced with choral sounds and matching trumpets, walking listeners through the stages of grief after the loss of an impactful person.
After another story of a song, we hear perhaps the most poignant transition of the entire album from “The Fall” to “Panic Manic,” where the space between the pieces is almost nonexistent. When listened to sequentially, the space can almost be mistaken for a rest leading into another verse of “The Fall,” paralleling the emotional experience of trauma and the devastating, maniacal aftereffects.
Meticulously produced, Group Theory features dizzying instrumentals from masterful musicians and impassioned vocals from soloists and a 9-person choir, the latter serving as a reminder of the noise of the outside world with the former delivering powerful messages on tracks such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” In this song (which is featured twice on the album) we hear the title as lyrics, ones that not only are specific to that particular track but speak to the album’s theme of heartache and loss.
Though Mogorosi is influenced by pioneers such as Art Blakey, his innovative South African jazz is all his own. Group Theory: Black Music proves that we’re more powerful together. Pain may be relentless, but so is the human spirit, which is apparent in “Mmama” and “Thaba Bosiu.”
Mogorosi weaves instruments in this album to show that these emotions are not something he’s lived singularly but rather a universal experience – a group theory. A stunning ode of an album, Group Theory is one of the best of 2022.