Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence is “essential” music, in the sense that the essence of the black church, the blues and the emotional gutbucket that marks the best jazz improvisation help distinguish its identity. And yet this is almost the opposite of a “roots” album; Brown, a drummer-conceptualist in his mid 30s, has fostered a species of music that incorporates the scalding blues-rock guitar and hip-hop sonics of Chris Sholar (probably best known for his Grammy-winning work with Kanye and Jay-Z on “No Church In the Wild”); extended samples from the rural Alabama gospel group the Gee’s Bend Quilters from their recordings in 1941 and 2002; the sinuous, Carnatic-styled East Indian vocals of Falu; the resonant, ductile jazz tenor sax of J.D. Allen and piano of Geri Allen; and Brown’s own polyrhythmic, African-bush-to-NYC-club assaults on the drum kit.
After a couple of straight-through listens, the entire package soaks into your soul. The terrifying, god-fearing declamations of the Gee Bend vocalists on traditional spirituals anchor the opener, “Mean World” and “You Can’t Hide.” The former finds drummer Brown and saxophonist Allen enacting the blitzkrieg of woe that befalls the wretched, yielding to a soundscape designed by Brown and his father, Dartanyan Brown, that wafts like dust and fog over a desolate plain at the end. On “You Can’t Hide,” Sholar’s guitar electrocutes and illuminates the Holy Ghost, followed by another caldron of phrases from J.D. Allen.
But the passion and reverence unfurls at differently evocative levels of intensity. “Somebody’s Knocking” features the parallel ululations of Falu’s voice and Andrew Shantz’s harmonium. “Patience” leads with the well-deep bass of Dartanyan Brown. “Power of God,” my for-now favorite track, lowers the volume on the gospel singers so that Geri Allen’s incredibly beautiful, understated piano can take hold, resulting in a softly shimmering tune. “Accra” is a drum showcase for Brown inspired by his trip to Ghana a week for the recording session. Transcendence concludes with another pair of spirituals, “You Needn’t Mind Me Dying” and “This World Ain’t My Home,” that mesh raging gospel and gauzy hip hop dappled with the rubato jazz of Allen’s horn. It will find a place on my best-of listings at year’s end.