There is a moment near the top of Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE LIVE, the new album recorded by the trumpeter’s quartet in Zurich, Switzerland on January 23rd, 2020, which feels like it bears the weight of both that specific pocket of time and a prophecy for all that was soon to come. branch and her Fly or Die, crew — cellist Lester St. Louis, double bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer/percussionist/mbira player Chad Taylor — had just kicked off the concert at Moods, with the opening tracks off their then-new studio album FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, the second of which, “Prayer for Amerikkka” is among the best political songs written during the Tr*mp Era, and when the moment in question pops off.
The multi-part “Prayer” begins as a goth-blues stomp, its moaning ghosts flying around the room. A week into a European tour and after three months of constant live performance, Fly or Die is at home in this new song’s contours, messing with its internal machinery while guiding its meaning. By now, “Prayer” had gained a tough spoken-word intro, bringing the context as it slowly gearshifts the intensity: “It’s a song about America,” off-the-cuffs branch while the band seethes behind her, “but it’s about whole lotta places — ‘cause it’s not just America where shit’s fucked up…” Then arrives the climax, at once site-specific and far-reaching: “…and it’s not always time to be neutral, do you know what I mean?” The gathered Swiss crowd knows, understands, and responds vocally, as Taylor’s backbeats cue branch to bring the trumpet to her lips, and let out a high-pitched wail. Her horn doesn’t know what’s about to happen to our world, and yet, somehow, it does — with only the catastrophic details needing to be worked out. For the next 12 minutes, “Prayer” careens through its twists of wide-eyed racism and family separation, Ajemian and Taylor driving branch’s punk-jazz Morricone horn line. “This is a warning, honey…” cries the song, and over the ensuing 70 minutes, the band echoes its sentiment, filled with glee and terror.
Where were you in January of 2020, those last moments of the Before Times? Where was your mind, your body, your soul? Did you have plans, hopes and aspirations for the oncoming calendar trip around the sun just starting its initial turn? Were you embroiled in the turmoil continuing to roil the feeds and the headlines, or steeling yourself for the ones that we all knew were incoming during an especially contentious American election year? Maybe both. Or maybe you felt there was some hope blowing in the air. read more
Jaimie Branch – trumpet, vocals, vibraslap
Lester St. Louis – cello, vocals, tiny cymbal
Jason Ajemian – bass, vocals, egg shakers
Chad Taylor – drums, vocals, mbira
At your leisure, feast your ears on this live gem “FLY OR DIE LIVE” by trumpeter/composer and singer Jaimie Branch