Since breezing in from Chicago, trumpeter Jaimie Branch has quickly become a major presence on the NYC scene, thanks not only to her instrumental chops but also her ceaseless organizing. However that influence has yet to translate into a commensurate discography. Fly Or Die (the name variously of the album, the band, the suite and a piece contained within it) represents her first appearance under her own name, and what will hopefully be the first of many. For her debut Branch enlists three further talents associated with the Windy City in cellist Tomeka Reid, drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Jason Ajemian.
Although making a name for herself primarily as an improviser, Branch took motifs from the quartet's first free performance six months prior to the record date, and used these to craft a series of tight grooving themes. She programs these cuts to flow together with more impressionistic or spacey explorations to create a continuous suite, assembled from a mix of studio and live recordings. Branch has also overdubbed the cornets of Josh Berman and Ben LaMar Gay, at times creating a brass choir, and adds the guitar of Matt Schneider at various points, as well as indulging in some post production effects.
Branch shows a wide adventurous streak, evidenced on the opening "Jump Off," where her frothy spluttering evokes Peter Evans, though at 13 seconds it's way too short. Another brief unaccompanied excursion emerges on the title track where her buzzing lines are tellingly set amid silence. What makes her so engaging is that allied to the experimental she possesses an innate melodic sensibility, often reiterating subtly modulated variations on thematic material. An early example comes through on the choppy "Theme 001," where Reid and Ajemian interlock in exciting counter rhythms which recall Julius Hemphill's classic Dogon A.D. while Taylor fastens into the grooves with inventive abandon.
Branch lays down similarly plaintive patterns towards the close of the crisp "Theme 002," which in turn form the basis for a reverberant multi-tracked brass chorus on "Leaves of Glass," culminating in a swirling crescendo of indeterminate string noise. In spite of the talented roster, most of the focus remains on the trumpet, although Reid does offer some slashing counterpoint on "Theme Nothing," where Taylor also takes an ebullient solo over insistent riffs. There's perhaps a downside to being chock full of ideas as a running time under 36 minutes means that those looking for Branch and band to stretch out might have to wait until next time. But already the indications are there to signal that it will be worth the wait.
Jump Off; Theme 001; Meanwhile; Theme 002; Leaves of Glass; The Storm; Waltzer; Fly or Die; Theme Nothing; …Back At the Ranch.
Jaimie Branch: trumpet; Tomeka Reid: cello; Jason Ajemian: bass; Chad Taylor: drums; Matt Schneider: guitar; Ben Lamar Gay: cornet; Josh Berman: cornet.
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