South African drummer Tumi Mogorosi may not be a well-known name on the international jazz scene yet, but if Project Elo is any indication, he will be. Recorded live in a studio over two days in 2013, Mogorosi, his sextet, and a quartet of opera voices is a stellar, suite-like collection of spiritual jazz compositions that is not easily categorized despite its geography, and doesn't derive from earlier exercises in the form. While it owes a debt to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (is there any spiritual jazz recording that does not?), it also builds on the early South African ex-pat scene of the Blue Notes, and more modern considerations of melodic modal improvisation such as Brian Blade's fluid, gospelized post-bop, global folk traditions, and modern classical vocal music. That said, those are inspirations, but Mogorosi's compositional ideas are his own and he carves a new chapter into that grain. The title refers to the Elohim, the angelic presences that dwell among humanity or who are indeed enlightened human beings. Everything here develops gradually and slowly; the interplay between saxophones, trombone, and electric guitar is not only for color and texture but timbral invention. On "Inner Emergence," the 'bone solo speaks directly to Mogorosi's shimmering -- and later cracking -- backbeat and the rounded, warm guitar vamps that create the flow of the music's dialogue. "Slaves Emancipation" employs a propulsive walking bassline to frame a bop-centric tenor solo that moves outward yet never goes completely free. Mogorosi's fills and accents drive a central circular rhythm until it joins with the four voices in offering ascending scalar statements as the alto saxophone trails in staccato manner behind the tenor. On "Thokozile Queen Mother," Gabisile Motuba (Mogorosi's wife) provides the suite's only vocal solo. It's a spiritual soul number that would not have been out of place on a Carlos Garnett or Hannibal Marvin Peterson recording from the '70s, but it's also more direct, less concerned with concept that articulation. Project Elo is fully realized, beautifully played, inspiring modern jazz that uses the music's post-1960 history to craft a statement as timeless as its spiritual subject.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek