Most modern producers/songwriters seek to highlight the triumphs of American culture; Jaimeo Brown Transcendence’s Work Songs invokes the way music was influenced under the most dire of circumstances. The follow up to the 2013’s Transcendence debut, drummer Jaimeo Brown and guitarist Chris Sholar weave jazz and hip-hop so tightly the boundary between the two might as well not exist. And unlike most sample-heavy albums the record doesn’t indulge in a narcotic form of nostalgia as much as it bombards history upon the listener.
No other record has perfectly encapsulated the first half of the year quite like Work Songs. Where the cast recording of Hamilton: The Musical invites young ears to understand the nation’s founding, songs such as “Lazarus” and “Be So Glad” take us straight back to a history the nation is just reliving with the remake of Alex Haley’s Roots. Where Kanye and Chance the Rapper made use of gospel in their albums this year, “Happy Serving” reminds us of the same small Sunday morning devotion we grew up with. And where on the backend of Beyonce’s Lemonade, “Freedom”, which makes use of the same Alan Lomax field recordings, pushes us towards a self-maximizing destiny, Transcendence’s “2113” gently reminds us that there has yet to be a future defined without the need for an exploitative form of labor.
Not content to keep the music strictly American in origin, Transcendence shows off the flare for the international without the result creeping into the growing conversation of cultural appropriation. “Safflower” a traditional Japanese song and “Stonemason” which is Hindustani is origin, are mostly left alone, with outside accompaniment most notably added by Marcia Miget on flute. Reverence is shown to the tracks by not just what is sampled, but how each song is incorporated into a larger work. In a style most associated with Kanye West each song begins with the original sample then flows away towards a new understanding. (Note: Sholar won a Grammy for his work on West’s and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne.)
The heavy lifting of sampling, producing, and arranging the work falls on Brown and Sholar tasks are equally spread throughout the album. JD Allen, who recently released his own interpretations of throwback songs on Americana, adds his signature tenor sax. Jaleel Shaw similarly raises the atmosphere throughout the album while on alto saxophone. Big Yuki and James Francies add keyboards.
A great deal of the album echoes part that part of the United States that we would like to forget or dismiss, the Deep South. The second track is specifically named “Mississippi” with vocals performed by Lester Chamber that should resonate during the political calls for economic justice. In the background of this song and many others Brown and Sholar performs delta blues style arrangements, reminiscent of those that were flipped and set the basis of the psychedelic wave laid down by Jimi Hendrix.
If the beginning of jazz is characterized by the reworking of the blues format to allow for exploration within the the music Work Songs is not only the clearest heir to the standard of which has been set, but also the pushes the boundary. The delineation between rap and jazz have been fading with regularity in the past few years: listen to the last few releases by luminaries such as The Roots and Kendrick Lamar, or the indie hit Surf album by Donnie Trumpet and Chance the Rapper. This year also saw MC producer Oddisee release Alwasta Ep and it’s instrumental companion piece The Odd Tape, two albums that pretty revolve around blending of jazz and hip-hop.
But all of those are jazz-styled hip-hop albums. Work Songs can be considered as near to the middle ground of hip hop and jazz as we have seen. Like hip hop, it is proudly not subtle about its aims, and, like jazz, it layers sounds upon sounds to give the listener someplace to explore rather than wallow in samples and beats. JBT gives us an immersive look into where music got us through our daily lives and provides a standard for where that same music could be taken going forward.
Work Songs, the latest album from percussionist Jaimeo Brown and the group Transcendence, is out now on Motema Music.