Friday 2 September 2022

Remembering Jaimie Branch

With incredible sadness, it was announced that trumpeter and composer, Jaimie Branch, had passed away 22 August 2022 at the age of 39 years.

Branch leaves behind an inspired catalogue of music and despite her extensive list of collaborations with artists including Ashley Henry, James Brandon Lewis and Rob Mazurek, Branch's 'Fly or Die' trilogy may very well serve as her long-lasting legacy, courtesy of her relationship with the brilliant Chicago-based label, International Anthem.

With 'Fly or Die' initially being introduced in 2017 with the follow-up, 'Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise', arriving in 2019, the trumpeter always found ways to tap into different facets of her personality depending on the projects she was working on.  'Fly or Die' was the formal introduction to Branch's unhindered and no-rules approach to music-making and it dared listeners to embrace her own vision for jazz in ways synonymous with International Anthem's own ethos.

Further, much of 'Fly or Die II' revolves around the thoughts and feelings conveyed in its centrepiece - 'Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 & 2': "It's a prayer for America, the good, the bad and the rest of 'ya". It's a song that exudes passion over the course of its 11 minutes and 26 seconds, from the melancholy bass, to Branch's screaming trumpet and ardent vocal openly calling out the racism attached to the recent Republican Presidency.  It's a phenomenal record that adds its name to an awesome lineage of soul and jazz music that sought to inspire thought and change through its bold social commentary.

The trilogy is rounded out by 'Fly or Die Live' which delivers as a thrilling exclamation point to an awesome series.  While 'Fly or Die II' addressed the aforementioned US government concerns across a divided America, 'Fly or Die Live' by default became its own commentary on events surrounding the global pandemic over the last two years.  Recorded live at Moods, Zurich, Switzerland, 23rd January 2020, the Fly or Die tour was now in full force at this time and, with many dates and countries still left on its schedule, would ultimately be halted during the pandemic that would subsequently impact touring for musicians around the world.

With both instalments of 'Fly or Die' bursting with ideas and Branch's impassioned voice, events post the 2020 tour would perhaps have had the wheels turning for what could potentially have resulted in 'Fly or Die III'.  The album would have made for a thrilling vehicle for Branch’s music to address the pandemic and quarantine lifestyle as well as the results of the last US election which would have followed-on nicely from themes raised throughout Branch's sophomore album.

Beyond the 'Fly or Die' series though, it would be remiss not to mention Branch's collaborative Anteloper project with drummer Jason Nazary.  Another International Anthem gem, the project afforded Branch the opportunity to delve deeper with more far-reaching and dynamic interpretations of contemporary jazz drawing from a deeper well of inspirations.  For their 'Pink Dolphins' (2022) release, the album's Bandcamp page features an excellent quote from Branch that surmises, not only the album, but also the joyous energy she brought to her music and I wanted to leave it for you here as the final thought:

“We’re improvisers first and we’re bringing “moment music” into these other zones of hip hop and electronic music, drum-machine music, sound-system culture… Acoustic musicians sun-kissed by electro-magnetism, flowing out into everything. This is the shit that we want to be playing on big ass systems. Omnivorous, energy space time, mosh pit dance-music. Get it in the subwoofers so you can feel it hit, cuz the music has to begin in the body!”

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