While it’s certainly not uncommon for jazz and soul music to boast a reputation of music that ushers in feelings of good times, dancing and romantic numbers, some of the most impactful soul songs associated with each genre’s history can be attributed to addressing social and political injustice. Classics by no less than legends like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron… all ask timeless questions about the society they grew up in and questions that sadly still ring relevant today. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ serves as a great example… maybe we’re destined to always ask that question but it’s certainly a question people still ask nearly 50 years later.
Jaimie Branch’s ‘FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’ is actually an album that continues in the vein of asking that important question… ‘What’s Going On?’. Released through Chicago’s International Anthem – which is also home to Resavoir’s stunning self-titled debut album from earlier this year as well – trumpeter Branch’s second album sees her add the tag of vocalist to her seemingly never-ending skillset which includes trumpet, synths and composition.
With this project’s predecessor, ‘Fly or Die’, having been released in 2017, the sequel sees the return of many of that album’s contributors, and subsequent frequent collaborators, including Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums as part of the core band, along with guests including guitarist Matt Schneider and label-mate Ben LaMar Gay.
Much of ‘FLY or DIE II’ revolves around the thoughts and feelings conveyed in ‘Prayer For Amerikkka Pt. 1 & 2’: “It’s a prayer for America, the good, the bad and the rest of ‘ya”. It’s a song that exudes passion over the course of its 11 minutes and 26 seconds, from the melancholy bass, to Branch’s screaming trumpet and ardent vocal openly calling out the racism attached to this Republican Presidency. The introduction of Branch as a vocalist serves to override the notion of any ambiguity regarding any of the messages littered within the music here and very much contributes to a more honest and sincere recording particularly with regards to the subject matter of such sensitivity. But the album boasts even more highs like the urgency captured throughout ‘Twenty-Three n Me, Jupiter Redux’ or the vibrant ‘Nuevo Roquero Estéreo’.
There really is something about a piece of art that challenges the notion of injustice or calls for change – it can be like staring into the remnants of Pandora’s Box and laying eyes on the faint glimmer of hope sitting at the bottom waving back at you. ‘FLY or DIE II’ is the hope that things can in fact change.