Jaimie Branch

Fly or Die
International Anthem Recording CO 0011

The Bridge Sessions 05

Escape Lane

The Bridge TBS05

Testament to Chicago’s reputation as an incubator of brass talent, which goes back as far Louis Armstrong apprenticeship there in the 1920s, are these CDs featuring trumpeters Jaimie Branch and Marquis Hill. Like the Windy City`s distinctive and somewhat chaotic transit system each has chosen an individual path of expression, and, perhaps inevitably, each has since decamped for New York.

Balancing rhythmic power, a muscular feel and a hint of repressed violence, which introduce Metal and Punk currents in her playing is Branch on Fly or Die, with it linked to the stellar backing of cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor. There’s also occasional input from dual cornetists Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman and guitarist Matt Schneider. Although conversant with hip-hop textures, on his CD Marquis Hill’s approach is polished into a slick adaptation of moderato Bop, matched with an analogous adjustment from guitarist Jeff Parker, better-known for his Rock-inflected work. At the same time the seven improvisations are put together to measure the partnership between the two Americans and two European musicians, Belgian bassist Joachim Florent, who has been involved with electronic-oriented and notated projects; and French drummer Denis Fournier who has dabbled in World Music as well as playing with Jazzers such as bassist Bernard Santacruz and trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo.

Operating with plunger counterpoint to harsh cello scrub and slices, Branch’s personal program is frequently underlined by pseudo Latinisms from the rhythm section. Even a piece such as “Leaves of Glass”, which filters Herb Alpert-like bravado notes with splintering sub tones, manages to maintain this even keel. Even Schneider’s licks that can seem piston-driven and which illuminate the subsequent “The Storm” are cut down to size by the trumpeter’s spetrofluctuation and Sears Tower-high elevated screeches before moderating into brass story telling. While regularizing the interface, the bassist and drummer can also engender provocative intervals when given a chance, as on “Theme Nothing” where Taylor turns the beat around using the raw power of focused stick motion, even as the cellist and trumpeter engage in a spectacular bull-and-bullfighter challenge at staccato speeds. But no one matches Brach’s mercurial scamper up the scale in a note flurry on the title track. Overall however “Waltzer” is the most representative track, illustrating the core quartet’s telepathic connection. Moving with cartoon-villain-like stealth, the bassist and drummer calmly maintain the theme fending off more spectacular flutter-tongued grace notes from Branch plus high-pitched glissandi from Reid.

More representative of European and American cooperation than foreign policy conferences involving the U.S, and the E.U., this variant of The Bridge is as equivalently tight as Branch’s quartet. Put together by Fournier, who was in an earlier French-American aggregation with, among others, Santacruz and Reid, the equity here come from Hill and Parker contrasting or coordinating musical ideas. Throughout it’s Florent’s double stopping, tremolo strumming and string-hammering plus the drummer’s tempo changes and rhythmic turbulence and intonation from drums and cymbals that animate and move many themes towards discord, though never reaching atonality. Meantime Hill and Parker plot their course as if the ghosts of Clifford Brown and Joe Pass are hovering on their shoulders. Moderated string strums plus almost vibrato-less sleek brass variations dominate tunes such as “Une petite fille danse assise” and “Le sel de la situation”. With a floating Miles Davis-like quiescence on the former, the trumpeter cedes any deviation from mildness to Florent’s walking bass line and a very occasional sharp guitar pluck, Meanwhile the balladic “Le sel de la situation” finds the front line coming across like the understated partnership of Jim Hall and Art Farmer of the mid-1960s, with only some downward strums and clenched string action from Parker upsetting the tune’s dream-like quality.

Other tracks may contrast Fournier’s clip-clops and Hill’s aural slow-motion expressiveness or note how ratcheting cymbals and bass string scrubs encourage the trumpeter to microscopically examine every melody variation even as it proceeds limpidly. However the designated tour-de-force is the over 21-minute, wordily titled “Lever de soleil au loin sur la lac agité où s'est réfugiée, usée, la tempête”. Although he eventually settles into vibrating prettiness, the better to insect with Hill’s mellow puffs, Parker strikes some sparks during the exposition as his pointed arpeggios press up against the bassist’s solid thumping. Here though, even as the four figuratively knit a sonic tapestry that’s as sturdily unified as it is richly garnished, the stand out coloration comes from Parker and (finally) Hill following unexpected paths to distinguish this tune from the others. Momentarily upsetting the narrative with air splats and plunger tones, the trumpeter initiates some call-and-response patterning with the guitarist as Parker’s baroque-like note decorating gives way to cunning flanges and slurred fingering. Demonstrating that a reserve of steeliness exists in their playing despite the on-the-surface smoothness, thematic precision is retained even after the bassist and drummer double the tempo. Rather than seeming to cling to the musical raft after this turbulence, the two front liners flex their swimming muscles responding with echoing tones that splash back onto the narrative.

Fly or Die is a defining statement from Branch, showing how the trumpeter can produce a well-integrated and griping series of improvisations with an overriding rhythmic thrust. In contrast the Escape Lane is for those whose escape involves moderated tempos and relaxed soloing. Nothing can be faulted in the highly polished work, but to get the pulse racing one wishes Parker and especially Hill would have let themselves go a little more as they do elsewhere. Perhaps the musicians feel the same way. When this group later toured Lamar Gay took Hill’s place.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fly: 1. Jump Off 2. Theme 001 3. Meanwhile 4. Theme 002 5. Leaves of Glass 6. The Storm 7. Waltzer 8. Fly or Die 9. Theme Nothing 10. …Back At the Ranch

Personnel: Fly: Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman (cornet); Jaimie Branch (trumpet); Matt Schneider (guitar); Tomeka Reid (cello); Jason Ajemian (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)

Track Listing: Escape: 1. Lane Open 2. Le sel de la situation 3. Lever de soleil au loin sur la lac agité où s'est réfugiée, usée, la tempête 4. 4800 S. Lake Park (l'encrier) 5. Franchissements 6. Rough Grooved Surface 7. Une petite fille danse assise

Personnel: Escape: Marquis Hill (trumpet); Jeff Parker (guitar); Joachim Florent (bass) and Denis Fournier (drums and percussion)