Apr 25, 2019 8:59 AM
In Memoriam: Frank Caruso
Chicago-based pianist and educator Frank Caruso died suddenly on April 22 at a relative’s home in Cary, Illinois. He…
Trumpeter Jaimie Branch’s impulsive, free-spirited nature gives her music life, movement and excitement in ways that has set her apart. She and a handful of musicians, many of whom are her International Anthem labelmates, have carved out a creative postmodern league of their own by refuting rules of previous eras, and dealing with new aesthetics and textures within a jazz context.
Branch released Fly Or Die in 2017, and now her ensemble of the same name (cellist Lester St. Louis, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor) is set to play a label showcase, International Anthem in Paris at the New Morning venue, with Irreversible Entanglements on Nov. 6. One day prior, Makaya McCraven and Ben LaMar Gay are scheduled to perform.
Branch recently spoke with DownBeat about playing the label’s London showcase—which served as a precursor to the Paris event—living in various cities around the States and the community developing around Chicago’s International Anthem label.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
You’re based in New York right now. What took you there?
I moved to [New York] from Baltimore. I was going to Towson University to study [for my] jazz performance master’s [degree], because the great trumpeter David Ballou was teaching there and was the head of the department. He invited me to come and hooked up an assistantship. I went and hung for a couple of years; I actually didn’t get my master’s, but I was living and working in Baltimore and was like, “I need to make a change.” I was either going to go back to Chicago or New York, and I decided to come up to New York.
Has your time in New York been fruitful so far?
I mean, it’s jazz, so it’s hard to say if anything is fruitful, but it’s been great. I love New York. I’m from here originally. I was born in Huntington, Long Island, and we moved to Chicagoland when I was nine. My mom is from Brooklyn and my dad is from Yonkers, so there’s a lot of New York in me.
How did International Anthem in Paris come about?
Back in October 2017, International Anthem did a showcase in London; it was a really excellent experience overall. So, a few months back, Scottie [McNiece, who runs the label,] just wanted to pull everybody [from the London showcase] together again. I was going to be on tour, Makaya was going to be on tour, Ben is touring with his quartet, and Irreversible Entanglements is touring. So, [Scottie] had been working with Lexus Blondin from Total Refreshment Centre in London and a Frenchman living in London, and somehow, we got hooked up to do the show.
I’ve played in Paris, but I’ve never brought my band there. So, it’s like another chance.
It’s great to see an independent label pull their artists together, almost like you’re a family. Does it feel like that for you?
They’re definitely trying to foster a sense of community that reaches beyond the music into these different places in the world. The showcases spread out from Chicago to New York to L.A. to London, and now Paris. It’s cool that there’s a lot of cross pollination that’s happening between the different scenes as well.
I feel like I have International Anthem lifting me up, but I also feel like I have friends lifting up the Fly Or Dies in London now. So, it’s cool and it’s important music. It’s a fucked-up time in the world, and all we can do is try to be good to each other. But it’s hard, because there’s no money.
There’s no money?
I mean, in jazz?
How does your work correlate to what’s going on in the world right now?
I think our surroundings are always affecting us. I wrote the record pretty quickly. I had been working on it in my head for a while, and when it came time to write it, I wrote it in about a week.
[Fly Or Die] had one rehearsal, two gigs and we recorded the record in my sister’s apartment. So, it was a very streamlined process, as far as making the actual music for the record. It felt great. It felt like I had been working and performing live for a long time, and I had been writing in this compositional style for almost 10 years. I was writing in this flowchart suite kind of form, so the whole process was quick and felt good.
There is post-production to the album. I sat with it for a couple of months, and then me and Dave Vettraino from Public House [Sound Recordings] sat and edited the album for two days.
As a composer, do you write all the parts or do you have others come in and contribute their own compositions?
I write all the parts. I intentionally write them pretty open, because, for me, the music isn’t on the page, it’s what we play and the musicians in the band. I feel like the musicians in the band are more crucial to the music than the written music.
What were you trying to express with calling your band and album Fly Or Die?
Well, if you’re not flying, what are you doing? You can either go up or go down. I spent plenty of time going down, so I’m just trying to fly these days. DB
Apr 25, 2019 8:59 AM
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