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Saturday, September 2, 2023

jaimie branch - Fly Or Die Fly or Die Fly Or Die (World War) (International Anthem, 2023)

By Martin Schray

In July 2022, jaimie branch was at International Anthem Studios in Chicago to edit the raw material for her new album. The tracks were previously recorded with her band Fly Or Die during a residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska. In Chicago, they added additional tracks to the originals and began with the fine-tuning. The album was actually almost finished, with only the mixing, final tracks and artwork missing. But a month later, jaimie branch was found dead in her Brooklyn apartment. In the months that followed, her family (especially her sister Kate), her band (Jason Ajemian on bass, voice and marimba, Lester St. Louis on cello, voice, flute and keyboards, and Chad Taylor on drums, marimba, bells, timpani and mbira) and her collaborators at International Anthem got together to continue the work in her spirit. The result is more than a message from the musical legacy. The band flies on these recordings further than ever before and tries to follow new paths, especially when they play around traditions more clearly than they have done so far. For branch obviously not only wanted to expand her musical vocabulary but also to open up to new forms of playing.

When you put on Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die (World War), you think it's a false pressing or that you’ve chosen the wrong record. What you hear is an organ that is typical of a Robert Wyatt album, and this is not the only oddity. Much more dominant than on previous albums, for example, are the vocals, which branch shares with other musicians. Fly Or Die (the band) is augmented by guest musicians. Daniel Villareal (congas, percussion), Rob Frye (flute, bass clarinet), Nick Broste (trombone) and Akenya Seymour and Kuma Dog (vocals) steer the music in new directions several times. The result is that the music has nothing to do with jazz in the purist sense, but is a conglomerate of alternative music, calypso, South African rhythms, folk and zydeco.

Even though Fly or Die Fly or Die (World War) consists of eight tracks, the album is actually one long suite. Only “World War (Reprise)“ seems like an addendum, an echo, an encore. The organ of the beginning is back on that track, as are the vocals, and again, the music is reminiscent of Robert Wyatt. However, apart from the novelties, there are of course familiar aspects we’ve learned to love from previous albums like the monotonous, driving rhythms, often dominated by bass and cello, or branch’s unique, slightly smeared trumpet sound. This is best exemplified by the two core tracks, “Burning Grey“ and “Baba Louie“. The former is perhaps the most typical Fly-Or-Die track on the albums to music, since especially here the vocals come to the fore. branch takes over herself, her style is a mix of singing and rapping, as she has hinted at on tracks like “Prayer For Amerikka Part 1 & 2“ from the Fly Or Die Live album. In keeping with the good old soul dictum “Move Your Ass And Your Mind Will Follow,“ branch wants to move mind and body. When the words in “Burning Grey“ say that the future lives within us and we should never forget to fight, she reminds us that fighting includes change. Moreover, the content is also reflected in the form of the song, as it only pretends to have a clear structure, just to turn into a kind of collective howl with eerie overdubs, echos and dubs. Then again, the groove is never completely lost in the process; anger and joie de vivre are not mutually exclusive. “Baba Louie“, the second central piece, brings the other novelty of the album into focus - the guest musicians. Together with the band, they lay out a musical carpet reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland, on which branch’s trumpet and the string instruments can spread out solos before the piece then tilts completely and reveals a dark, atonal side.

On Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die (World War) you can hear that branch and Fly Or Die were still having fun in Chicago, mixing the possibilities of the professional studio with the recordings already done in Omaha - which makes her death even more tragic than it already has been. What else could she have made happen? Wasn’t she one of the few musicians who had a vision for the future of this music beyond the elitist opinions that Jazz means complex harmonies for trained ears and rhythmically demanding themes? branch, however, usually played only a few chords if it came to harmony, either as a blues or folk framework, from the USA or the Afro-Caribbean regions. For her, Jazz meant not only canon, but high sensitivity and intensity in the interplay. In this realization she was unique. This album shows that once again in an exemplary way.

Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die (World War) is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download. You can listen to the album and order it on the label’s Bandcamp site.


Anonymous said...

Live or Die Live is so amazing. What a loss to music, radical politics, and the world.

Anonymous said...

Fly or Die Live is such an amazing work! What a loss for music, radical politics, and the world. I love her more each time I listen to one of her albums.