Lucid Culture


A Haunting Update on Old Spirituals from Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence

Percussionist Jaimeo Brown’s new Transcendence album (just out from Motema) was inspired by a cult classic, How We Got Over: Sacred Songs of Gee’s Bend by the Gee’s Bend Quilters. It’s a double album of old African-American spirituals recorded during quilting sessions which Brown has sampled extensively and used as the basis for a rather haunting series of what could be described as jazz tone poems.

One amazing thing about the performance of those spirituals is how rhythmically they were sung: Brown plays seamlessly with them, and everybody in his ensemble is swinging, if slowly and sometimes morosely.  Brown’s compositions lean toward minimalism – every note here counts – with an uneasy push and pull. It’s a dark, relentlessly ntense suite of sorts. JD Allen begins with the blues, spirals around, hits the occasional repetitive, insistent riff, and then develops his themes with a modally-infused gravitas: he is the perfect choice of tenor saxophonist for this project. Guitarist Chris Sholar brings a smoldering, slow-burn, David Gilmour-esque majesty and angst to the pieces, often playing with a slide. Pianist Geri Allen works an eerily starlit, otherworldly pedalpoint as the sax, guitar and keyboards (also including Andrew Shantz’ harmonium and Kelvin Sholar’s light electronic effects) shift around within the sonic picture. Brown artfully leads a series of slow crescendos, sometimes riding the traps around the perimeter, other times building to a crushing gallop. Singer Falu adds Indian-influenced vocalese on the more hypnotic of the album’s twelve tracks. And Brown’s parents, bassist Dartanyan Brown and flutist Marcia Miget, each take an emphatic cameo.  The result is stark and richly evocative: the way the bandleader weaves the sampled choir and individual voices into the music casts them as ghosts from another era that eerily prefigures our own. The whole thing is streaming at Jaimeo Brown’s tour page.

And he gets the big picture. From his liner notes: “On a macro level, politically this music is a warning to our generation. Global corporations and banks are destroying local cultures throughout the world. The same spirituals that gave strength to our ancestors need to give us strength today as we consisder the very real possibility of modern global slavery, and look in earnest for ways to avoid that unacceptable state. In the midst of darkness the brighest light and hope can appear.”

April 2, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, gospel music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence Earns Its Name

Wednesday night at Smalls Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence made their debut – or one of their debuts. The drummer hedged a bit, but whether or not this was their first-ever gig, this is definitely a new unit, one that won’t stay under the radar much longer. Brash as their name is, they lived up to it, which makes sense in that the trio includes guitarist Chris Sholar and the redoubtable JD Allen on tenor sax. Seeing Allen in such an intimate venue was a rare treat, and as usual he found his vector and took it to its logical destination. It’s hard to imagine a musician or composer right now whose emotional intelligence is firing on this level: if GPS actually worked, JD Allen would be GPS. This unit base their songs on old Alabama spirituals. The concept seems to be how long, and how deep they can take those stately, often harrowing ideas and motifs. This time out, that meant all the way to the center of the earth, which turned out to be a warm but not scorching place, aware of a hell that might have been and that still resonates even if it no longer exists.

They’d brought along a friend who doubled on harmonium and vocals. Their first number set the tone for most of the night, a thoughtful, often minimalist exploration of a single wounded, brooding minor-key blues mode that went on for what seemed like half an hour. Sholar held it together with washes of sustain when he wasn’t adding the occasional offhandedly snarling, reverb-tinged motif. Allen played it serious and mysterious when he wasn’t developing slightly lighter earthtone tinges with some casually rippling ornamentation. As usual, he didn’t waste a note. Brown is a colorist in the Jim White mold, taking the lead as much or more than the guitar and sax. Even when he went off on a tangent, loosening the reins to where Allen and Sholar could also go peering into darker, more distant corners, he was a man on a mission. Whether playing with mallets or sticks, his touch on the drum kit was deliciously nuanced: guys who play as many beats as this guy don’t usually make them count, or count by as many minute, deftly placed fractions as he does.

About midway through the show, Allen seized on a motif and worked his way into the terse, foreboding, chromatically charged intensity of the theme from his now-classic I Am I Am album, casually slashing around for a couple of verses before stepping back to take in Sholar’s hypnotic atmospherics. They flipped the script for about fifteen minutes of a warm, optimistic, minimalist vamp punctuated by judicious accents by all three; later, Sholar introduced a troubled four-chord descending progression that took on the feel of a Beatlesque ballad before Brown started alternating rhythms and taking a long, inexorably crescendoing solo while Sholar built a trancey, Indian-flavored series of loops that led back into the gospel-powered mystery, enhanced by Allen’s wistfully expansive lines. And while Alabama superseded India in this particular show, it’s interesting how this project has come together at the same time as Vijay Iyer’s ascendancy, and drummer Sameer Gupta’s hypnotic Namaskar project. If Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence never goes beyond this stage, to see them now would give you a piece of history: twenty years from now, jazz fans will be bragging that they saw this show even if they didn’t.

November 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment