At WSJ on Jaimeo Brown Transcedence’s Work Songs


‘Work Songs’ by Jaimeo Brown Transcendence Review

On ‘Work Songs,’ Jaimeo Brown Transcendence draws from Alan Lomax’s invaluable 1930s recordings of field workers in the South.

Chris Sholar and Jaimeo Brown. ENLARGE
Chris Sholar and Jaimeo Brown. Photo: Rebecca Meek


‘Work Songs” (Motema), the new album from the group Jaimeo Brown Transcendence, may bring to mind “Work Song,” jazz cornetist and trumpeter Nat Adderley’s classic 1960 number. The two recordings share similar roots—the invaluable tapes made of field workers in the rural South that Alan Lomax began making in the ’30s—yet they couldn’t be more different. Adderley’s tune is by a fairly conventional jazz ensemble (guitarist Wes Montgomery takes the place of a saxophonist); Mr. Brown’s album relies heavily on samples of Lomax’s vintage discoveries, and these sounds are augmented by Mr. Brown, who plays drums, guitarist Chris Sholar and a handful of leading musicians.

The idea of mixing live music with vintage samples of rural African-American music isn’t new. The dance-music star Moby used this approach on his multi-platinum 1999 recording “Play” (V2). Also, the concept of fusing jazz with recorded elements has been a staple of shows by pianist Jason Moran. Often Mr. Moran will play a recording of anything from an Asian stock-market report to classic Billie Holiday and have his band respond to the rhythms and speech patterns. But Mr. Brown seeks a more intimate relationship to his source material, aiming to complement it with virtuoso playing and soloing—sometimes deepening the impact of the vintage material. He creates compelling music that feels very of the moment yet has potent historical roots.

“Hidden Angel,” the first track on the new album, begins with the gruff harmonies of field workers chanting as they till their field; there are also the sounds of crickets and the rhythms from their implements striking the earth. Mr. Brown’s drums and the murmurs of Jaleel Shaw’s saxophone enter gently, gradually achieving balance but letting the older sounds determine the mood of the song. That mood is enhanced on “Mississippi,” which features blues singer Lester Chambers. Another highlight is the closing track, which meshes Messrs. Brown, Sholar and Shaw with vocals from members of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers, a group of artists from a rural Alabama hamlet.

In a concert on Sunday night at Brooklyn Bowl, Mr. Brown succeeded in translating this ambitious project to a live setting. Rather than inhibiting the musicians, the prerecorded elements worked as a fourth band member, triggering spontaneity by the players. The solos were longer and more contemplative than on the album, further enhancing the introspective mood set by the samples.

Mr. Brown, who is 38 years old, grew up in the Bay Area, the son of two musicians. After undergrad at William Patterson College he went graduate school at Rutgers. His professional career has spanned jazz, R&B, rock and hip hop as he’s played with Bobby Hutcherson, Geri Allen, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and Q-Tip. He formed Transcendence in 2013 with Mr. Sholar and saxophonist JD Allen, and that year they released a self-titled debut recording. In the press notes to the newest disc, he says of his attraction to the field recordings, “it’s our human journey of transcending the difficult.”

There is a lot of discussion in the jazz world about liberating the music from the antiquity of its first half century. Musicians like Mr. Moran, Steve Coleman, Dan Weiss, Vijay Iyer and others have made recordings that strive to integrate new techniques and sounds into their playing. With this project in general and this recording in particular, Mr. Brown has joined this lineage, yet he’s reached back to look forward.

Mr. Johnson writes about jazz for the Journal.

About jmartin437

I've worked in and around the world of high end cheese for 27 years. I've been everything from a department manager who hired and fired and trained staffs to a weekend warrior who shows up ties on an apron the middle of a rush and talks to customers and cleans up the place. I enjoy it all, and I especially like my current situation conducting informal seminars about cheese at area bars and in class at the 92nd St. Y. The current schedule is always up at In addition I conduct private events that are perfect to lead off birthday parties for foodies and sommeliers and also they make great entertainment for corporate team building events and associates meetings at law firms. In addition, I've been a freelance journalist for 27 years. Currently my profiles of leading musicians and filmmakers appear in the Wall Street Journal and I also wrote about sports for the Root, and for five loooong years, which included the entirety of the Isiah Thomas Knicks era, I wrote about the NBA for the New York Sun. I enjoyed writing about basketball so much that I now do it here at rotations for free.
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