Fly or Die Live catches Jaimie Branch’s quartet reaching new heights | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Fly or Die Live catches Jaimie Branch’s quartet reaching new heights 

click to enlarge Jaimie Branch

Jaimie Branch

Peter Gannushkin /

If the world can agree on one thing, it’s that 2020 was not our best year on record. For former Chicagoan Jaimie Branch, it should’ve been a time of triumph for her current quartet, Fly or Die. The group were riding the wave of a splendid sophomore LP, where Branch added vocals with tragically topical antifascist themes to her adroit trumpet playing, and from its release in October 2019 right up to the week that lockdowns began, they’d toured tirelessly to support it. This double live album, recorded in January 2020 in Zurich, Switzerland, proves that the band had reached a point where they couldn’t go wrong; even if one musician flubbed a note, another would turn it into a great new idea. Drummer Chad Taylor sustains an endlessly variable stream of life-giving grooves, even as he engages in inspirational interplay with whoever is soloing. Cellist Lester St. Louis and double bassist Jason Ajemian both play thrilling solos, but they also come together to form what sounds like a four-handed organism capable of juggling bluesy strumming, arcing lines, and intricate rhythms. Branch’s banter is charged enough to break the Swiss audience out of their alleged neutrality, and they cheer her as she castigates fascism, racism, apathy, and closed borders around the world during “Prayer for Amerikkka.” Her trumpeting sounds equally capable of starting fires, jumping like lightning among intricate rhythmic figures, electronically magnified growls, and stark, dramatic statements. Fly or Die were already blowing space junk out of their path before COVID-19 grounded them; who knows how much higher the combo will soar as the world opens back up?   v

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