‘What’s going on?’ In 2019, I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing the, then, new album from trumpeter Jaimie Branch, ‘Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise’, released through Chicago’s pioneering International Anthem record label. While the album touched on many troubling issues throughout within the US – most notably the actions of the then-Republican President, Donald Trump – we regarded Branch’s offering within the pantheon of music addressing social and political issues and cited the very question posed of Marvin Gaye from his seminal project, ‘What’s Going On?’, asking whether that was a question we, as a society, are forever destined to ask ourselves.
Fast forward to June 2021: As the world struggles back to its feet following over a year of quarantine, face masks, an abundance of hand sanitiser and homeschooling all under the threat of a deadly virus – there’s an obvious three worded question people have been asking during that time that unfortunately has given no definitive answers.
While the music on ‘Fly or Die Live’ is by no means a commentary on events over the last year, it is certainly a project directly impacted by it. Recorded live at Moods, Zurich, Switzerland, 23rd January 2020, the Fly or Die tour was now in full force and, with many dates and countries still left on its schedule, was ultimately halted during the pandemic that would subsequently impact touring for musicians around the world.
And if the music presented on this release is anything to go by… then what a tour it was!
Featuring the core musicians that played throughout ‘Fly or Die II’, including Branch of course on trumpet, Lester St Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, Branch’s quartet present an epic nineteen-track setlist that revisits tracks from the initial ‘Fly or Die’ project (International Anthem, 2017) as well as its successor. The track that very much served as the centrepiece for ‘Fly or Die II’ – ‘Prayer for Amerikkka [ts 1 & 2’ – seems to have outperformed even itself in Zurich with the original 11 minutes 26 seconds bolstered by a further three minutes.
Branch’s now ominous words introduce the track live in the Moods recording with the words…
“We wrote this one about a year ago… shit was real fucked up at home… and it’s still real fucked up… in fact maybe much, much worse.”
Oh J Breezy, you have no idea.
With both instalments of ‘Fly or Die’ bursting with ideas and Branch’s impassioned voice, events post the 2020 tour must surely have the wheels turning for what could potentially result in ‘Fly or Die III’. The album would make for a thrilling vehicle for Branch’s music to address the pandemic and quarantine lifestyle as well as the results of last year’s US election, the latter of which was openly called into question throughout her sophomore album.
One thing’s for sure though – until you have the chance to see Jaimie Branch live again, you will absolutely need to wrap your ears around the phenomenal release that this is.