On paper, "Transcendence," the debut release by 34-year-old jazz drummer Jaimeo (pronounced jah-mayo) Brown should not work.
Primarily featuring tenor saxophonist JD Allen and guitarist Chris Sholar (who recently earned a Grammy for producing Jay-Z and Kanye West's haunting "No Church in the Wild"), Brown's band adds some wild cards in pianist Geri Allen, East Indian vocalist Falu and field recordings of the Gee's Bend singers, an Alabama quilting group who sing traditional spirituals while they work. The mash-up of sound and styles could've been a study in collage, but instead Brown finds something tantalizingly close to its title.
It's an odd yet consistently inviting concept that begins with a sample of "This World Is a Mean World," which introduces with Allen's saxophone spiraling alongside the weathered baritone vocal, giving way to a hammering, increasingly intense rhythm from Brown the plaintive refrain returns. Brown's agile pulse is again the focal point on "Be Free," which features a sinewy melody from Falu, and her voice makes a striking counterpoint on "I Know I've Been Changed," which develops with such divine spirit it almost feels psychedelic.
The album's themes of religion and civil rights evoke past masters such as Max Roach and John Coltrane (particularly with Allen's inspired blowing), and in following their lead Brown has delivered one of the most distinctive albums of 2013. His vision comes into focus on "You Needn't Mind Me Dying," which centers on a call-and-response between the band and a distant, echoing chorus of voices so ghostly it sounds like a conversation between generations. Of course, that's precisely what the record is — and beautifully so.
Three and a half stars
Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor).