It's not only the "new English scene" that has been shaking up the jazzosphere since the 2010s... On the other side of the Atlantic too, in New York and Chicago in particular, a gang of agitators is preventing jazz from going around in circles. And behind the charismatic drummer Makaya McCraven, the most publicised of the lot, hides a handful of equally inspired rebels, including an extraordianry figure who has unfortunately passed away, on the 22nd of August 2022, aged 39: Jaimie Branch.
Born in Long Island in 1983, this freer-than-anything trumpet player moved to Chicago with her family at 14 before moving to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. After a few first shots in obscure bands (Princess, Princess and Block & Tackle), she then went back to college in 2012, this time in Baltimore, at Towson University. During these years, Jaimie Branch also struggled with a serious heroin addiction, which began in early 2008, however she eventually sought treatment in Hampton Bays, Long Island, in March 2015. In the aftermath, she dropped anchor in New York and moved to Red Hook in Brooklyn, where she passed away. Her career took off and she started playing in bands, personal projects, side projects (like Anteloper, her electro duo with Jason Nazary) and other collaborations. Her name finally spread beyond the indie jazz scene and she really stepped into the limelight in 2017 with the release of her first solo album, Fly or Die, which she recorded with Tomeka Reid, Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor, Matt Schneider, Ben LaMar Gay and Josh Berman for International Anthem Records, the label that best symbolises the burgeoning new Chicago scene. Two years later, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise was to follow, with the addition of Fly or Die Live in 2021.
On her records, Jaimie Branch played the trumpet of course but she sometimes sang too... From her mouth came a virulent libertarian, feminist, anti-racist and anti-establishment speech. A human political and social firecracker! Fire, but also a lot of poetry. Being free is one thing. Proclaiming it with such charisma is another. This spiritual daughter of Lester Bowie, Don Cherry and Booker Little was above all not satisfied with the vehicle of jazz to get her ideas across in notes or words.
Cliché: America is a patchwork. Reality: Jaimie Branch's music is too. Jazz of course, free or dented, but also blues, Native American influences and contemporary and avant-garde was the music that she spread by whispering or screaming depending on the message to be conveyed. Far from being dead, jazz has lost one of its most original and offbeat voices. Not just an avant-garde activist, no. Simply a great musician.