Project Fuses Gee’s Bend Quilters Southern Spirituals with Eastern Indian Music and Electronic Elements, Under the Umbrella of Acoustic Modern Jazz
With Special Guests Geri Allen, Falu, and Kelvin Sholar, Among Others
Transcendence marks the Motéma Music debut from Jaimeo Brown, a brilliant 34-year-old drummer, composer and conceptualist. With an intriguing amalgam of modern jazz, Southern black spiritual music, East Indian Carnatic music, blues, and hip-hop/electronica production tactics, Transcendence introduces Brown as a fearless renegade – an artist who seeks new pathways for personal musical expression through honoring a deep and broad lineage of musical and cultural traditions.
Brown and his cohorts – acclaimed tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen and GRAMMY®-nominated guitarist and soundscape producer, Chris Sholar - form the nucleus ensemble on this album. The extended lineup includes a rotating cast of notables: pianist Geri Allen; harmonium player Andrew Shantz; East Indian vocalist Falu; avant-jazz keyboardist Kelvin Sholar; Brown’s parents, bassist Dartanyan Brown and pianist/flutist, Marcia Miget; Brown’s sister, vocalist Marisha Brown; and Brown’s 2-year-old daughter, Selah Brown, who makes a charming vocal debut on the song “I Said.”
Brown’s philosophy of transforming pain and deliverance into art, and the resulting Transcendence, first took root in 2010 while living in the same New Jersey apartment building as J.D. Allen. They forged a spiritual bond through experimentation with various music styles, and shared readings of the Bible. “We were praying and actually supporting each other through the hardships of being a young artist,” Brown recalls. During that time, Brown was listening intently to some music that was superimposed over an Eastern Indian tanpura. That music resonated so heavily with Brown that it sparked a creative fire.
“I started getting ideas about different ways in which superimposed music could be experimented with in an improvisational jazz context,” Brown explains. As his concept deepened he recruited Sholar, with whom he had worked in hip-hop contexts, to bring a raw, blues-drenched guitar presence to the material, and to create layered cinematic soundscapes in both the live and recorded setting.
Perhaps the most transfixing element on this recording are the featured samples of the celebrated Gee’s Bend Quilters, spiritual singers that hail from rural Alabama. Their haunting songs, sung while quilting, were documented in 1941 and 2002 (via Tinwood Media). Their quilts have been featured in museums around the country and their music has inspired compositions by a handful of musicians, most notably pianist Jason Moran’s “Blue Blocks” (a commission by the Philadelphia Museum of Art).
“The primary purpose of black spiritual music is to build community and provide a medium for healing and worship. This is what I aim to do with my music as well,” says Brown. While subconsciously searching for healing of his own as a young artist, he first encountered the Gee’s Bend Quilters during his studies at Rutgers University. “I was investigating material for my thesis on ‘How the Black Church Affected Jazz,’” he explains. “In the process of researching the history of the Black Church, which is not documented well, I was thirsty for any information and music that I could find. Through the process, the Gee’s Bend Quilters captivated my imagination.”
However, Transcendence is hardly a simple product of scholarly erudition. Brown is the first to include actual samples of their voices within a live context. He debuted this concept on Geri Allen‘s celebrated holiday album A Child is Born, and returns to the concept now in collaboration with co-producer, Sholar (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Q-Tip, Mariah Carey), and multi-GRAMMY®-Award winners Russ Titelman (producer of Eric Clapton, James Taylor, George Benson, Randy Newman) and Todd Whitlock (engineer of Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Béla Fleck, Sting, Wayne Shorter). Transcendence unfolds as a multi-layered sonic odyssey where the Gee’s Bend singers voices weave in and out, affording Brown’s music a sensation that’s as fresh and emotionally penetrating as it is intellectually and spiritually provocative.
Transcendence creates a musical montage of the highest and most synchronous order. By juxtaposing primordial elements of western blues, jazz, rock and electronica against a spiritually potent background of ancient East Indian and African American devotional sounds, this band stumbles into a musical universe of its very own. Though Transcendence is unmistakably on pulse with what is current in jazz exploration, it’s freedom and depth of soul finds more connection with spirit pioneers like Max Roach, John Coltrane or Randy Weston, than it does to the market driven mix, sample and match trends of many of Brown’s contemporaries.
The 12 songs on Transcendence bring new life to vocal samplings from the Gee’s Bend singers. “Mean World” channels the inner-spirits of Coltrane’s Eastern imports, while “Baby Miesh” relays the more purely Eastern-Indian influence, also heard on “Somebody’s Knocking” and “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” The album’s vibe shifts on “Patience,” a rock-based song, and moves forward to push deeper into more Western-influenced tunes like the sample heavy “Power of God,” as well as “This World Ain’t My Home,” a track that concludes the album with a heavy hip-hop influence.
Because of his parents’ musical careers, Brown rebelled against becoming a musician for many years. He didn’t begin playing drums until he was 16-years-old, a move that he credits with saving his life as it diverted him from a growing involvement with gang culture in California. “I was a C student. I didn’t really have much interest in anything and I was heading down a bad path. It was my father who put the drumsticks in my hands and led me to study with Sly Randolph, a Bernard Purdie protégé.” Brown soon found himself playing with other illustrious Bay Area scenesters including trombonist Wayne Wallace, pianist Ed Kelly, percussionist Pete Escovedo, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and even guitarist Carlos Santana.
Brown studied at William Patterson University from 1998 to 2001, then Rutgers University from 2006-2008, where he earned his Masters degree. His East Coast mentors included esteemed drummers Victor Lewis, Horacee Arnold, bassist Rufus Reid, and pianist James Williams. After graduating, he held the drummer’s chair in the Charles Mingus Band before leaving that post to explore his own horizons. Legendary figures Wynton Marsalis, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Garrett, Steve Turre, Geri Allen and Joe Locke are among the many greats that have tapped Brown’s jazz talents in the ensuing years. He also ventured into a variety of other genres including electronica/deep house (Carl Craig), hip-hop (Q-Tip), and R&B (Stevie Wonder).
The drummer’s holistic approach to music greatly informs the multifaceted nature and execution of Transcendence. “What I tried to do was follow the simplicity and the common denominator of each [musical] essence,” Brown says. “Being a product of the hip-hop generation and having parents who are jazz musicians, and seeing all music as kind of equal but as different forms of expressions, had a lot to do with me understanding the common denominators of gospel, blues, jazz, and Eastern Indian music and helped me create a continuity within all of the diverse ideas.”
Ultimately, Brown offers the world a kind of ‘jazz’ that simultaneously recalls the history of man while also challenging us to consider our own place and responsibility in the current cosmos. “I feel more like a steward of this project than a bandleader,” says Brown, whose conviction brought his own musical understanding, personal experience, and considerable historical and sociological expertise, not to mention patience, to the table to realize this quilted masterwork of sound.