As the credits begin to (hopefully) roll on this woeful pandemic, people—fully vaccinated or not, and very foolishly in any case—are still getting chesty in the US about things like mask protocols and even the existence of the virus.
The rise of such careless, Trump-ish rhetoric makes it an opportune moment for Brooklyn-based composer, trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist Jaimie Branch to collect her flowers, and some checks too. Remember the way she boldly spoke out against the Orange One during his reign of terror? It’s time to revisit those moments with the release of her January 2020 Zurich live recording FLY or DIE LIVE (available now in digital form, and on vinyl and CD come July 31.)
Here we have a whole ass mood, vibration, and frequency. The LP fuses the rhapsodic and sobering moments of Branch’s two previous studio projects into a cohesive atmosphere, built with klezmer upswings, bluesy testimonials, and bombastic electronic warmth. Its sounds reflect the persevering spirit, where dark eventually succumbs to the light.
The album was released last week on International Anthem, the same imprint that’s put out next-level records from Jeff Parker, Makaya McCraven, Irreversible Entanglements, Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble, Angel Bat Dawid, Ben LaMar Gay, and numerous others. FLY or DIE LIVE reminds everybody that Branch, along with her ace quartet of Jason Ajemian, Lester St. Louis, and Chad Taylor earned prize fighter status when she stood up and represented for the culture while this country was kidnapped by a different type of virus following Trump’s 2016 presidential election.
Many of the people who were witnessing treason in action during those times waited for hip-hop, rock, electronic music, emo, new country, or any of the top-grossing genres of music to publicly say something in outrage. But once again it was the jazz musicians speaking the truth.
On “prayer for amerikkka pt 1 & 2” and “love song,” Branch sings not for show, but to convey grit, disgust, and perseverance in the throes of adversity. She connects with her Chicago blues side, as fellow musicians testify in the background, house of God style. During “love song” she asks the crowd to help her sing. It’s highly entertaining to hear these strong Swiss accents enunciate that, “it’s a love song for assholes and clowns.’’
Track “nuevo roquero estero” features a fully engaged band cooking, tapping, and interacting musically in all directions. Its breakbeat drives for eight minutes, until we get Branch opening up some type of indestructible Balearic chops. Using a reverb of some sort, her wails and runs streak over the top of the arrangement, leaping into the stratosphere, aided by the carnival tempo of the arrangement that brings the crowd in whooping, uplifted and transformed. By song’s end, Branch gives those last blasts, gently slowing down. It’s goosepimple time.
FLY or DIE LIVE‘s hard-driving, Friday night church meeting also serves as Branch’s dissertation on racist buffoons and shitbag troglodytes. The album executes an avant-garde rebellion against the xenophobic policies forced upon a compromised judicial system in pre-COVID America.
Branch who called bullshit on it from day one, and now she is sharing that protest-in-song, as the world begins to open back up.
Purchase the digital album here.