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Jaimeo Brown Transcendence: Work Songs

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The challenge here for drummer-composer Jaimeo Brown and his collaborator and co-producer in Transcendence, guitarist Chris Sholar, was to avoid reducing Work Songs to a history lesson. The follow-up to 2013’s well-received Transcendence, Work Songs grafts field recordings-the sampled sounds of farmers, prisoners, masons and miners-onto contemporary improvisational music via modern technology and sensibilities. It’s a document bearing purpose and statement; it’s also exhilarating beyond its content.

“Hidden Angel,” the first track, opens with a sample of the folk staple “Stewball,” sung by inmates at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm prison, recorded in 1966 by the renowned folklorist Alan Lomax and gathered onto a Smithsonian Folkways album (as were many of the samples used here). As the track progresses, Brandon McCune’s churchy organ, Jaleel Shaw’s alto saxophone and Brown’s drums pick up on and subsume the voices until all components become uniformly forceful, entwined but never equal. For “Mississippi,” which follows it, Lester Chambers, the former leader of ’60s soul-rock’s Chambers Brothers, puts his sweet growl to a gritty Delta blues dominated by Sholar’s beastly guitar, while “Lazarus,” the third track, is in continual freefall: Brown’s pile-driving drums threaten to tear away from JD Allen’s unbound tenor saxophone, Marcia Miget’s gossamer flute and the stacked voices of Virginia workers.

Not all of Brown’s samples are taken from the United States, and Work Songs is more effective for its diverse sourcing. “Stonemason” features a guest vocal improv from Indian-born vocalist Falu, but her entrance and dominance of the piece occurs only after we’ve become entranced by the spellbinding rhythms of a Japanese craftsman deep into his art.

Work Songs works because it pays equivalent respect to the past and the present, the oppressed and the free, and the multicultural, integrating disparate elements and drawing strength from strewn-about pieces.

Originally Published