Jazz Album Review: jaimie branch’s “FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise” — Into the Outer Reaches

By Steve Feeney

jaimie branch knows music has to be wild and dangerous and beautiful to cut through all the distractions of our times.

jaimie branch – FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise, International Anthem Recording Co.

Bandleader/trumpeter jaimie branch’s 2017 album FLY or DIE blew a lot of listeners away. You could tell that she was feeling the music, and that she knew what it was all about. She realized why it mattered. Though she was formally trained at the New England Conservatory, you sensed that she knew music had to be wild and dangerous and beautiful to cut through all the distractions of our times.

FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise, is a worthy successor to that initial declaration of freedom. Branch’s compositions always seem to be approaching new (and not always happy) horizons. The leaps, smears, and down-low growls of her trumpet technique, along with its revelation of a distinctly thorny musical vision, limn the crazy places where life and art don’t meet so much as collide.

Branch, who adds synths and voice to her arsenal on the new disc, is rejoined by Chad Taylor (drums, mbira), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Ben LaMar Gay (voice) from the earlier album. Lester St. Louis takes the cello chair held by Tomeka Reid on the first album and Marvin Tate (voice) and Dan Bitney (synths, percussion) fill out the group.

A good place to start is with “prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 & 2.”  It’s low down and dirty with St. Louis and Ajemian riding over Taylor’s hard thump. The ultra-rough texture of branch’s solo raises hairs. Her voice cuts through the groove with a warning about “a bunch of wide-eyed racists” on the prowl.  A chattering rap by male voices seconds that passionate alarm. Things become creepier as rustles from the cello lead branch into embracing an elegiac mode. She then segues into the tale of an immigrant that ends with a succinct caution: “This is a warnin’ honey. They’re comin’ for you.” A Spanish-tinged trumpet fanfare leads into a final, edgy cello passage.

The other piece featuring branch’s voice will surely be one of the candidates for song title of the year. Her “love song (for assholes & clowns)” is a visceral expression of sensual disgust. Electronic rumbles weave through this melancholy exercise, as branch repeats the title several times before a shuffle beat leads the others into a final rally and an ethereal close.

Low strings dominate “bird dogs of paradise” before Taylor solos over high howls emitted by humans going full canine.

jaimie  branch — exploring new sonic realms.  Photo: Peter Gannushkin.

The infectious “simple silver surfer” takes a Latin rhythm to a sort of street-level virtuosity, providing a bit of danceable release to a disc whose exuberance is most often discordant. It’s apparent that branch enjoys the opportunity to employ her horn’s upper register to explore the instrument’s out-of-the-way corners, perhaps its way of reflecting the roadblocks set up by hard-to-fight social injustices.

A shiftier “nuevo roquero esterio” continues down the dusty streets of an imaginative somewhere, propelled by the warm strength of Taylor’s pulse (which is reminiscent of “jump off” from branch’s first disc).  Trumpet echo and some grinding electronics launch the piece into the outer reaches, where music, perhaps, goes on forever. Or does it dissipate? Is this a last call? Surely not, given the exhilaratingly cacophonous work coming from an iconoclastic artist who is exploring new sonic realms.

Steve Feeney is a Maine native and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He has a Master of Arts Degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began reviewing music on a freelance basis for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently, he has added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is pleased to now contribute to The Arts Fuse.

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