Trumpeter Jaimie Branch’s 2017 debut release, Fly or Die, landed on numerous best-of lists for that year. She was praised for her ability to fluidly move between jazz styles, from the rock-oriented to the free-formed. On this sequel, she builds her legacy even further. Joined by Lester St. Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion – as well as a handful of guests – Branch also performs electronics and contributes vocals.
The one piece that most easily stands out among the nine offerings on this album is Prayer for Amerikkka, a two-part jazz-oriented protest song on which Branch virulently and loudly decries the state of race relations and immigration in the United States. She is angry, not afraid to show it, and makes an iconic and timely statement.
But aside from that, Branch and company explore less weighty Latin-inflected tunes, long jams, and some knotty themes. Case in point, Twenty-Three-n-Me, Jupiter Redux begins with a catchy cello motif that transforms into Branch leading the group with electronics and quirky effects in the background. The track ends with a lengthy free-improv break. Simple Silver Surfer, on the other hand, showcases the bass and cello playing overlapping tunes accompanied by Taylor’s creative percussion, while Branch contributes a winsome melody. Bird Dogs of Paradise is a half a compelling cello/bass drone, with the other half largely a Taylor drum solo.
Perhaps due to an unpredictable diversity, Fly or Die II is even harder to pigeonhole than its predecessor. Branch’s experimentalism is grounded and yet unrestricted. Her heavier topics are followed by playfulness. This is a release that we’ll be talking about for some time.