jaimie “breezy” branch, was a trumpeter and composer who had rapidly ascended as one of the brightest stars in the jazz world when she tragically passed away on August 22, 2022, at the age of just 39. In July 2022, this exceptional trumpet player and composer found herself in Chicago at International Anthem (IARC) studios, adding the final touches to an album. This album was a musical suite she had composed and recorded with her flagship ensemble, Fly or Die. In the aftermath of her passing, the album was nearly complete, requiring only some mixing adjustments, final titles, and artwork to reach its full realization. branch’s family, led by her sister Kate Branch, her band members (Jason Ajemian, Lester St. Louis, and Chad Taylor), and her collaborators at IARC (including engineers Dave Vettraino and David Allen, along with comrades Alejandro Ayala and Scott McNiece), all came together to ensure the completion of jaimie’s final album with her quartet, Fly or Die, Fly or Die, Fly or Die ((world war)).
Given the context, it’s difficult to listen to this record without contemplating the loss of branch. However, that initial sadness quickly transforms into a lasting tribute to her remarkable talent. In Fly or Die, Fly or Die, Fly or Die ((world war)), branch guides the listener through a captivating musical landscape that seamlessly melds avant-garde innovation with deep-rooted jazz tradition, unveiling glimpses of her early years playing in Chicago punk bands. Tracks such as “burning grey” and “baba louie,” both extending beyond the 9-minute mark, set the tone with their spirited and resounding brass arrangements. Branch’s trumpet artistry is nothing short of masterful, showcasing both technical brilliance and a profound emotional depth. Her bandmates consistently complement her with a brilliant dynamic interplay that ensures the listener’s unwavering engagement.
branch’s raw and impassioned vocals, missing from the first Fly or Die album, now emerge as a dominant presence in the third installment. She defies the conventional role of a jazz singer, opting for shouts, howls, and singing akin to your favorite indie artist. This transformative dynamic reshapes everything you thought you knew about branch and her music. The ambiance undergoes a profound shift, evolving into a vibrant and bustling gathering where people are primed to unwind. branch, in her defiance of certain jazz conventions, underscores the notion that music can serve as a daring means of escape.
Another standout moment in Fly or Die, Fly or Die, Fly or Die ((world war)) is “the mountain,” a reimagined rendition of Meat Puppets’ “Comin’ Down.” This track features bassist Jason Ajemian taking the lead vocals with branch harmonizing, leaving you craving more while serving as the perfect conclusion to side one of this exceptional record.
Fly or Die, Fly or Die, Fly or Die ((world war)) is a testament to jaimie branch’s exceptional skills as a musician and composer. It boldly pushes the boundaries of jazz, offering an exciting and emotionally resonant experience. This album is a must-listen for anyone eager to explore the forefront of contemporary jazz, solidifying jaimie branch’s position as a leading voice in the genre’s evolution. Her remarkable ability to blend tradition with innovation shines throughout. While it’s easy to feel a sense of sadness over her loss, this record serves as a captivating final chapter in her career and an essential addition to the modern jazz canon.
For more of Christopher Anthony’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note
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