Trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch pulls no punches. A raw, in-your-face sensibility runs through Fly or Die, her stunning 2017 debut, as well as the 2018 disc Kudu by her side project Anteloper (which, in a nod to her time in the Windy City and the influence of Rob Mazurek, she nicknames the New York Underground Duo). Her proper second album, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, is even more vivid. It’s a superb recording that seethes in its quiet moments and often reaches a bracing, full-throated roar.
A terse 45 minutes, Fly or Die II mixes intense longer pieces like “Prayer for Amerikkka pt. 1 & 2” with pieces like “Lesterlude,” a 40-second showcase for cellist Lester St. Louis, who replaces Tomeka Reid in Branch’s quartet, and “Whales,” mostly a solo for bassist Jason Ajemian. Drummer Chad Taylor rounds out the ensemble with an array of lithe and virtuosic rhythms. Branch’s compositions make splendid use of the instrumentation; the music sounds both familiar and unique thanks to the mix of strings, electronics, and percussion.
Branch’s trumpet playing is bigger and bolder this time, and she sings in a passionate rasp, railing against wild-eyed racists in “Amerikkka” and disdaining “assholes and clowns” in “Love Song.” In the liner notes, she writes, “so much beauty lies in the abstract of instrumental music, but being this ain’t a particularly beautiful time, I’ve chosen a more literal path. The voice is good for that.” Instrumentals like the title track, “Simple Silver Surfer,” and “Nuevo Roquero Estéreo” also soar, and they are potent evidence that Branch has advanced from a promising new voice to a solid force on the jazz scene.
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