A bunch of Parchman Farm prisoners from some time early in the last century sing their work song, Stewball, and beat out that stone-breaking rhythm. Over it swells a thoroughly 21st-century, picante harmony of saxophone and voice against a low synth hum and accenting toms. It’s such an arresting sound, such different worlds overlaid to such stirring effect.
This is the second album in which drummer Jaimeo Brown has sought out field recordings made by Alan Lomax, some from the Library of Congress, some from Smithsonian Folkways, and combined them with contemporary writing and playing. The first, 2013’s Transcendence, was striking but Works Songs doesn’t just repeat the process, it tightens the connections, smooths the joins and is an altogether more cohesive and powerful production.
The Gee’s Bend Quilters – a group of women from a small Alabama village who down the generations have gathered to sew quilts and sing traditional songs – were the focus of that first Transcendence album and they are here again, joined by the powerful blues singer Lester Chambers, and saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and JD Allen.
The sampled recordings aren’t restricted to African-American history, with two featuring Smithsonian recordings or traditional Japanese folk songs. Combined with hip-hop grooves or layered keyboards from Big Yuki these too work a treat.
A project like this with such eclectic components, and moving from jazz to blues to rock to hip-hop, could easily end up sounding a bit of a mess. It’s a tribute to Jaimeo Brown’s and co-producer/guitarist Chirs Scholar’s cohesive vision and production that it ends up no mess at all but one of the most effective musical fusions I’ve heard in a while.
Both strong politics and strong music. Highly recommended.
There is a taster of five tracks here:
Categories: CD review