Jaimie Branch - Fly Or Die II: Birds of Paradise

Label: International Anthem, 2019

Personnel - Jaimie Branch: trumpet, voice, synths, sneaker squeaks, bells, whistles; Lester St. Louis: cello, percussion; Jason Ajemian: double bass, percussion, vocals; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira, xylophone + guests

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Chicago trumpeter Jaimie Branch became a sensation after moving to Brooklyn and release her widely acclaimed debut album Fly or Die, title that also identifies her excellent group. With Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, another fearless socio-political manifesto that marks her much-anticipated return, she brings new elements to the recognized eclectic approach, including inflammatory lyrics that she sings with punk-like attitude. According to her, we’re not living in a particularly beautiful time and an exclusively instrumental perspective is not effective anymore. That’s why words of criticism and discontentment are essential. Most of these tunes were written while touring in Europe for the first time with her band.

Targeting racism, “Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 and 2” is a tremendous force, a powerful and insurgent blues that is the absolute peak of the album. The sluggish groove meticulously designed by bass, cello, and drums airs a slightly menacing tone, with acerbic cries of protest and agony echoing from Branch’s trumpet. Whereas her vocal mechanisms can easily relate to Patti Smith during the first part of the tune, it resembles PJ Harvey in the second (the other voices belong to the illustrious guests Ben LaMar Gay and Marvin Tate), where the conspicuous acceleration and mood variation trigger off Spanish-tinged statements over the strumming of a 12-string guitar. The finale has rasping cello incisions pushing us directly to “Lesterlude”, a composition by cellist Lester St. Louis.

Both “Simple Silver Surfer” and “Nuevo Roquero Estéreo” are feel-good-riffing songs whose melodies stick in your head. The former blends folk and Latin elements and the result is humorous and playful, while the latter incorporates more than the rock suggested in its Spanish title by mixing funk, Latin, and African music into an immutable yet exuberant rhythmic state of euphoria. The spirit of Don Cherry is present.

Diversity, inclusion, and eclecticism are the words of order here. Hence, if “Bird Dogs of Paradise” is populated with droning and buzzing sounds and percussive invasions that take us to the liberating ecstasy of Art Ensemble of Chicago, “Twenty Three N Me, Jupiter Redux” awakes with a flickering electronic drone, traverses a killer ostionato-based groove in 12, and wraps up with cacophonous avant-garde eruptions.

Branch concludes the work with the singable “Love Song (For Assholes and Clowns)”, a pop-inflected waltz that veers to indie rock at some point. Chad Taylor’s drumming contracts and expands here, and you can hear the following words at the beginning: ‘this one goes out to all those assholes and all those clowns out there. You know who you are!’.

In a political time where so much feels uncertain, it’s openly revolutionary recordings like this one that impel everyone to act in order to preserve civil rights. Branch’s work exerts visceral power in an exciting way.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 and 2 ► 04 - Twenty Three N Me, Jupiter Redux ► 08 - Nuevo Roquero Estéreo