Wednesday, March 18, Café Coda, 8 p.m. Info
Photo by Dawid Laskowski.
Trumpeter Jaimie Branch and a varied cast of collaborators from across Chicago and New York’s jazz scenes have laid out an explosive, cosmically bold vision across Branch’s two albums as a bandleader, 2017’s Fly Or Die and 2019’s Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs Of Paradise. (Fly Or Die is also the name of the band that tours behind this material.) The first captured a fluid marriage of improvisation and strong composed themes, shifting through bubbly but thorny grooves on “Theme 001” and delicately layering Branch’s trumpet with cornet (from Ben LaMar Gay and Josh Berman) and spacious, psychedelic production twists on “Leaves Of Glass.” Across the album, Branch showcases her ability to combine sharp melodies with a range of brash and otherworldly trumpet sounds, always wielding the instrument in a dogged effort to push through to new territory.
But as fresh and unconstrained as Fly Or Die felt, its follow-up transforms the project into a whole different beast. Branch contributes spoken and sung vocals, synths, and percussion in addition to trumpet on Bird Dogs Of Paradise, making for an approach that’s more direct and confrontational but also pushes the music to even more stirring extremes. “Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 & 2” builds up a shambling blues under Branch’s furious rants about the moral rot at our country’s heart: “We got a bunch of wide-eyed racists, and they think they run this shit.” The song gradually morphs into an urgent, mariachi-tinged story about immigrants trying to make it into the country and survive in a hostile climate. Cellist Lester St. Louis, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Chad Taylor prove just as ambitious and flexible as Branch herself, whether on the playful grooves of “Simple Silver Surfer” or the more abstract opening passage of “Twenty-Three N Me, Jupiter Redux.” (Taylor and Ajemian also played on the first Fly Or Die, but with Tomeka Reid on cello.)
Branch’s most memorable turn as a vocalist here is on the closing track “Love Song,” or, as she croons and bellows time and again, “a love song for assholes and clowns.” It’s funny but sincerely, cathartically, justifiably mean, the musical equivalent of throwing a drink in someone’s face. Between that refrain, Branch lays down alternately lyrical and fiery trumpet leads, as her bandmates nudge the piece toward joyous chaos. There’s so much deeply informed musicianship here, but all the same, Branch and her band refuse to let traditional boundaries or manners hem them in. This Café Coda show will be Fly Or Die’s first visit to Madison. —Scott Gordon