Jazz drummer and composer Jaimeo Brown has just released his triumphant debut album Transcendence. Throughout the ambitious effort, Brown fuses original composition and soundscapes with the legendary recordings of rural Alabaman singers Gee’s Bend Quilters, who historically performed spirituals while quilting. Brown’s own original music contributions (many co-written) is an eclectic treat in itself, exploring elements of Eastern Indian music, electronics, and modern jazz. Co-produced/performed with Grammy-nominated guitarist and producer Chris Sholar, Brown’s esteemed personnel includes “regular” JD Allen (tenor sax) as well as guests Falu (vocals) and Geri Allen (piano).
“Mean World” presents the first taste of the fusion of “old” and “new”. Sampling the Gee Bend Quilters’ rendition of “This World Is a Mean World”, Brown’s commanding drumming serves as the bridge between classic and newer material. Additionally, a soundscape designed by Brown and his father (bassist Dartanya Brown) adds a mysteriousness, particular when Eastern musical elements enter. JD Allen solos intriguingly throughout, channeling a similar spiritual vibe like John Coltrane on A Love Supreme (1965). After the superb opener concludes, “Somebody’s Knocking” keeps the momentum going strong. Opting against sampling, the Brown/Sholar co-write is based upon the spiritual of the same title. Rather than remain true to the gospel original, Brown and company steer away, bringing in Indian vocalist Falu to accentuate the eastern sounds. Brown, likewise, thinks more percussively, less focused on being “time keeper”.
“Patience” finds Brown continuing to showcase percussive liberalism, treating the drums more melodically than as a time-keeping device. Ambition flows through all personnel as Chris Sholar’s guitar playing sports a bite, in the rock idiom. JD Allen creatively improvises over Dartanayan Brown’s foundational bass, which outlines potential, if unfulfilled harmonies. On “You Can’t Hide”, the Gee Bend singers return via sampled spiritual “You Can’t Hide (Death’s Got a Warrant)”. Sholar embraces his best blues guitar, while JD Allen soulful ad libs match the singers’ unshakable faith. The spirit thrives ‘freely’ on “Be Free”, with Brown’s mother (Marcia Miget) joining on flute, providing a timbrel contrast. In step with everything else is Brown’s unrestricted rhythm, which works “conversationally” with his colleagues.
“Power of God” beautifully blends spiritual and the talents of Brown and Geri Allen. Allen ends up stealing the spotlight, receiving ample playing time following the exit of the sample. Brown reemerges strongly on “I Know I’ve Been Changed”, which initially takes on something of a dirge-like, New Orleans funeral sensibility. With such a notable spiritual as its basis, “I Know I’ve Been Changed” as a song ends up among the cream of the crop. “I Said” proceeds with excellence, featuring Geri Allen once more on piano and Brown’s two-year old daughter Selah at the conclusion (she fits the vibe perfectly). “Baby Miesh” showcases a nice interplay between Marisha Brown’s vocals and JD Allen’s saxophone at the onset. Spacey, abstract, and free, “Baby Miesh” allures on interest alone.
The final stretch of Transcendence remains focused and strong. “Accra”, inspired by Brown’s trip to Ghana, finds the drumming to be intense and impassioned. On penultimate number “You Needn’t Mind Me Dying”, Brown’s jubilant drums open, while JD Allen’s gritty playing matches the Gee Bend singer’s spiritual resolve. Closer “This World Ain’t My Home” concludes as strong as the effort opens, with lyric “Yes Lord” recurring throughout the cut. Brown shows his hipness as hip-hop drum programming rears its head at the very end.
Ultimately, Transcendence truly transcends its base style of jazz. Cerebral, refreshing, and remarkably consistent, the effort truly illustrates how far jazz is extendable; how high the stylistic ceiling is. Brown benefits from his restlessness, which helps craft Transcendence as one the best jazz albums of 2013.