May 24, 2017

fly or die

Will Schube has classified every album ever by genre.

Any veteran of the Chicago jazz scene is good by me. This iteration of jazz’s Midwest hub is so varied and diverse, so wonderfully infused with the quirks and tics of genreless music, that any mainstay gets an automatic pass. Jaimie Branch says thanks but no thanks to the automatic in. Her music is too defiantly loud, too excitingly accelerant to be given a gimme.

Fly or Die is Branch’s first solo release, and there’s no better home for outwardly pushing jazz than her label, Chicago’s International Anthem. The label is home to Jeff Parker, one of my favorite modern players and a thoughtful practitioner of jazz’s modern evolution.

Branch’s debut begins with a quick introduction, followed by “theme 001,” a track led by a drum groove that could fit anywhere from The King of Limbs to Tony Williams’ Believe It. The music is tense and urgent, propulsive in its push for space; Branch’s canon-like horn needs room to explode. Accompanied by Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums, Branch’s quartet takes the ebbs and flows of jazz and twists them atop each other until what comes, goes, and what goes, comes. Take “Waltzer,” for instance, a six-and-a-half minute track that moves from ambient to exploratory to explosive to experimental and back to ambient before it settles upon a proper ending. It’s brilliant.

While Branch’s solo leanings may veer towards the avant-garde, she’s made a name for herself backing indie staples Spoon and Brooklyn heroes TV On The Radio—the place she now resides. While Branch may no longer live in Chicago, the DNA of that city’s jazz scene is all over her music. Just as ’90s-era Thrill Jockey and their stable of experimental rock bands bled into the world of jazz and vice versa, Fly Or Die is uninterested and willfully dismissive of artificial bounds. This is an album. A very good one. Sometimes it takes trying to understand where a record fits in to realize that the music triumphs above distinctions because of this very defiance.