Brooklyn-based composer, trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and vocalist jaimie branch (who always kept her name lowercase on purpose), brought new colors and IRT utility to the jazz idiom, sometimes thanks with punk-rawk dynamism. She died on the night of Monday August 22 at her home in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.
His death was announced by International Anthem, the Chicago-based label that released his music. The statement, made in consultation with his family, did not provide a cause.
She was 39 years old.
I’ve written on the branch seven times in two years, right here for 48hills. All of this coverage would make anyone who knew her personally think of me as a day one dude, preaching about this genre-breaking phenomenon on a retro-in-the-day-like expanse. But in fact, I never met the artist nor saw her in concert and I deeply regret it.
You see, I came to j brise late, but once I heard her – that fire – I knew that essentially she was the future. This intensity made so many people think that she was about to take her music into undefined realms.
During this first listening to his work, I had to sit down. Hydrate. Keep calm. So call friends. Have late night conversations about branch influences: Stockhausen, what Miles stole – excuse me, repurposed – from him. I slapped Sextant on the turntable, by Herbie Hancock, and just opened.
branch and his music have done what all great art is supposed to do: rethink what you thought you knew. The way she projected those moans, plunging her trumpet into the limitless. She screamed at Freddie Hubbard-like levels of fusion. Asking both questions and answers in the throes of a conviction. My Gawd.
As a musician first, and a singer second, she intuitively knew how to creak notes where they needed to be when vocalizing.
branch packed the energy of Sun Ra, Mouse on Mars, Moor Mother, Harriet Tubman and Autechre into arrangements that went from space-modal to psychedelic music. His last album pink dolphins from Anteloper, a recurring project with longtime friend and drummer Jason Nazary, sat brazenly on the sidelines, conveying the atmosphere of the 21st century, staring straight into the abyss.
Everything stayed with me. Hard.
Many would describe her live performances as “full”, and what she brought to venues as “presence”.
Piotr Orlov, a writer and critic who befriended and became inextricably (and happily) involved with branch, considered her work and intuition to be genius. He attested to the energy she brought to the live performance in an email to 48hills.
“I don’t know why it makes me think of that right now, but she played like that Springsteen line from ‘Badlands’,” he said. “‘For those who had an idea deep down / That it’s not a sin to be happy to be alive.’ She performed like she was happy to be alive, and alongside people who cared as much as she did.
“There are very few audience members that I know of who have walked away from her playing in the last few years when there was nothing less than utterly won over and doing ‘Holy Shit’,” a- he continued. “Jaimie’s game required you to either care or get the hell out of here. And she brought nothing less than what she demanded of others.
branch music challenged us. Yo. It challenged me. He advanced what jazz is right now, redefining the parameters of what it could be and who could do it. And then, as if that weren’t enough, she gave him a voice, a purpose. Agency.
“We have a bunch of wide-eyed racists! The branch shouts amid the blues dirge “prayer for amerikkka pt 1 & 2” of his prisoners FLY or DIE II: Bird of Paradise Dogs album of 2019.
“And they think they run this shit.”
This was my introduction to the branch, and she spoke out boldly against the Orange One during its reign of terror. Possessing that ferocity of Friday night church meeting, the diatribe and the song spoke to humanity. fly or die was for people attacked by a government that was supposed to protect those without resources.
A jazz musician being just when he needs it? One who, by the way, just worked in a cafe, packing sandwiches, a few years earlier? Yeah. I was totally into it.
“I’ve been privileged to not only hear jaimie play often, but also to play different types of music in many different types of circumstances,” Orlov said. “And the guideline was that absolutely nothing was considered ‘just a gig.’ after wave to enjoy the moment, especially when she was playing with people who cared just as much about her – which was, in my experience, quite a lot all the time. She was contagious that way.
Thanks to an experimental method and this larger than life character, it arrived as a talent experienced as a whole, originating from the jump. the branch’s artwork contained touches of Chet Baker, to the bawdy-type humor of Betty Davis, to the fusion of Miles Firecrackers. branch and his label mate, producer-musician Jeff Parker, shared a love for Miles Davis Long live evil and continually borrowed from alternative rock and lo-fi expressions. She used punk approaches to EDM, never caring where they landed – only the journey in sound mattered. This hip-hop swag fueled the inventive process, guiding his love of grunge to seep into arrangements, liquefy walls, seep to destinations unknown.
branch was a torchbearer with new pindrops for jazz. She drove it forward with that J Dilla type energy, you know? Evolution. This woman, this shit-free human, donned a baseball cap, forever rocking Helado Negro’s “Young Latin and Proud” t-shirt with a kimono-like shawl swaddled around her shoulders, and with her trumpet in the air, sounded the alarm.
This aesthetic – non-conformist, imperturbable and primal – was just her. No fiction.
the arrival of branch was perfectly synchronized with the current resurgence of jazz. Evidence of this renaissance is everywhere. I saw tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, multi-instrumentalist/trumpeter Emma Jean-Thackaray and Grammy-winning musician Robert Glasper at The Bay for 10 days this summer.
The feat made me smile continuously for days. But one fact could not be overlooked: the abundance of young people at these salons. They were mostly white kids, ages 20 and up, sometimes vaping in Outside Lands, other times with barely a layer of clothing. Perhaps out of respect or curiosity, but whatever the case, this generation frequented the jazz table.
Both Washington and Glasper had similar moments at the peak of their respective performances, doing the “personal calculations,” feeling the vibe, producing that nanosecond squint of “are they going to get it?”, then instantly flipping to their professional alter ego artists. The point is, the new jazz aficionados were self-taught, baptizing themselves with American classical music in its composite resurgence.
branch, tapping into so many musical venues, combos that put the dusty version of jazz into a bitcoin, Twitch, NFT-like reality, rocked these kids from 2017, taking up space on their iPod. This airy chemistry helped usher in this moment.
I just wish we could see more of the future she had hidden under that shawl.
Stream the music of jaimie branch here.