“We’re gonna-gonna-gonna take over the world,” chants Jaimie Branch with breakneck urgency. “Give it give it give it back-back-back to the la-la-la land.” Her fury in this song, “Take Over the World,” is fueled by her blaring trumpet, Jason Ajemian’s galloping double bass, Lester St. Louis’s slippery cello and Chad Taylor’s cascades of drums. And as punctuation at the end of each of many repetitions/variations on that chant, Branch becomes a charging warrior or enraged beast, letting out a fierce “ahhhh-wooooooooo.”
It’s arguably a candidate for punk anthem of the year. But it comes on a collection that is arguably a candidate for jazz album of the year: Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)). Branch likely would argue that this is both punk and jazz — or neither. Well, would have argued, She died last year at 39 of an accidental drug overdose at home in Brooklyn, just as she was cementing her stature as an artist un-hemmed by genres and with seemingly limitless potential, not just with her own music, but as an in-demand collaborator for artists ranging from jazz giants William Parker and David Murray to Brazilian samba icon Elza Soares to art-rockers TV on the Radio and Spoon.
Recorded four months before her death, this fulfills the considerable promise of two previous studio albums as a leader and one live set — all featuring Fly or Die in the title — with expression as deep and visionary as it is immediate and visceral, whether pieces with vocals or instrumentals, incendiary or somber.
Jazz? Well, it’s not Miles Davis. It’s not Sun Ra. It’s not even the Art Ensemble of Chicago, though there’s lineage (and some sensibilities) from the latter, the standard-bearer of boundlessness in the city where Branch’s art took shape in her formative years. That’s most prominent when the quartet (supplemented at times by a few guests) break out marimbas, kalimbas, haunted keyboards and such to open up whole worlds of sounds. On such extended pieces as “Borealis Dancing” and “Baba Louie,” things shift organically from chamber music to dub-style to post-post-post bop to Afro-minimalist mosaics, the musicians (plus a few supplementary guests) given room to develop ideas along the way, individually and collectively.
Punk? Perhaps an apt analogy could be the Minutemen, the bracing, jazz-adjacent beyond-punk ‘80s trio from San Pedro, CA. And in fact, the song “The Mountain” adapts “Comin’ Down” by the Minutemen’s old SST label-mates, the Arizona trio the Meat Puppets.
What this shares with all of those artists are be-yourself freedom and a celebrate-your-history mandate. What ultimately stands out is Branch’s hunger for experience and exploration – and sorrow that it won’t continue. She was gonna-gonna-gonna take over the world.