AMN Reviews: Jaimie Branch – Fly or Die (2017; International Anthem)

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch is well-known within the New York and Chicago creative music scenes as a collaborator. Her efforts include sessions with William Parker, Matana Roberts, Jason Ajemian, and many others. On this, her debut recording as a leader, she provides 35 minutes of improvisation, some free, some not. She teams with Tomeka Reid on cello, Ajemian on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, with guests Matt Schneider on guitar, as well as Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman on cornet.

In addition to landing in multiple places on the composed-to-unstructured spectrum, Branch’s works also span various levels of atmospherics. As an example, the aptly-titled theme 002 is a catchy, bass-driven vamp with Branch providing a distinct melody. On the other hand, leaves of glass features a pre-conceived, echoing motif followed by the horn players, leaving space between notes at first but then is filled with cello and bass explorations. That track is followed by the storm, which features generous portions of glissando and hushed extemporization. And to drive home the point of how diverse Branch’s approach can be, the album kicks off with a 15-second extended technique trumpet piece, not unlike what one might expect from Nate Wooley.

Fly of Die has a live-in-the-studio feel lending it a sense of urgency and integrity. Ultimately, the album is an evolution of sorts, from structure to freedom, then back to structure. Branch and her compatriots navigate this shifting landscape with skill and ease, of course.

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