by Nolan DeBuke
Chicago based trumpeter Jamie Branch is a product of the fertile Chicago jazz scene, as an apt composer and trumpet player Branch is the best of what the city has to offer, though adventurous in nature, her music is neither avant-garde nor straight-ahead, but a cultured amalgam of accessible leitmotifs and open-ended creativeness. On this album, she is joined by fellow city alumni Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, with guest spots by guitarist Matt Schneider and Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman on cornet.
Overall the recording is a short program, but one that offers a lot of meaty playing within its grooves. Tunes like, “Theme 001” where cello and bass create an first-rate soundscape for the vociferous trumpet solo edged by understated percussion which allows for a complexity of rhythmic ideas and dynamics, Branch’s trumpet solo is muscular and angular in its execution, but always propelling forward.
“Theme 002” takes up where the first piece leaves off, an interactive bass and drums structure, leaves plenty of room for interaction and that is certainly the path they take, Branch’s solo offers elongated long tones, higher in register for an impressionistic result. Branch plays and leads the ensemble with shear confidence, her music is unapologetic and full of capable moments of unique signature styling. The core musicians are tightly woven, yet loosely bound for an explorative result.
“Theme Nothing” begins with a powerful trumpet call to which the ensemble meets the task, with immediate support and result creating a perfect foil towards development of the rhythmic foundation and rabbling trumpet forays into grooves by the trumpet that add interest and brilliance to the track. An irresistible groovy section for cello, bass and drums before Branch returns and helps drive the music home with appetite. In closing the creative improvisational ideas are musical and worked quite well as an overall themed sound, each player is given space and leverage to create unique and individualized ideas, yet are bound together by the strength and cohesion of Branch’s strong compositions. From lyrical to abstract, Branch never loses site of the group sound. Fly or Die is cohesive embodiment of Branch’s talents in writing, playing and as a group leader.