“Play that which only you can do but never played before.”
– Bill Dixon
“Movement in its pure force is above gender.”
– Choreographer/dancer Ohad Naharin in the film Mr. Gaga
A native New Yorker, Jaimie “Breezy” Branch moved to Chicago at age nine, where she resided for twenty years before attending Towson University in Baltimore for two and a half. She returned to New York to pursue her musical ideas and ideals, and immediately established herself as a force to be reckoned with. Besides hosting an A-1 late-night music series at Brooklyn’s Manhattan Inn, now sadly gone, Jaimie is one of the strongest trumpet players around; her often breezy palette ranging from straight-ahead, single-note phrasing to extended techniques filled with spurts, blurts, flutters, and polyrhythms, to post-Bill Dixon forays into “otherly” sounds. I only wish I could make some of those sounds for you here.
To quote the writer and journalist Clifford Allen:
Trumpeter Jaimie Branch performed some of the most exhilarating improvised music I’ve heard. She…dove headlong into emotional reservoirs that I, as a listener, didn’t realize I had,…mining a purity of very dark textures and feelings that brought tears to my eyes. Branch lives through her horn and it’s not every day one can share just a little bit in what that’s like.
I recently asked Jaimie her thoughts on the following issues:
Steve Dalachinsky (Rail): What is it like being a female trumpeter in this male-dominated field?
Jaimie Branch: As we have re-entered the age of the woman (finally), I get asked a lot about being a woman in a male-dominated field. To be honest, I haven’t felt much push back. I played the trumpet real good when I was a young girl, and now twenty-four years later I play the trumpet real good as an all grown-up woman. The disrespect that I have dealt with has never felt disproportionate to other musicians, male or female. Some people are shitty. They were probably treated shitty at some point so they act shitty now. Perhaps it’s the people I choose to surround myself with. Playing the trumpet is so tied in to my identity at this point that if someone were to question my worthiness, I’m confident I could shut them up pretty quickly. Another thought is that diversity in general is key to making the best music possible, the best art possible, the best anything possible. So it’s important that women improvise. How boring it would be to have nothing but major scales or just one hue of red or white or blue.
Rail: Why did you choose New York when Chicago has such a fertile music scene?
Branch: The super dope part about New York is that there are incredible musicians everywhere in every borough, every neighborhood.
Rail: Why did you pick so-called avant-garde jazz?
Branch: Why avant-garde jazz? Well for one, why not? I mean someone’s gotta do it. Free music (to steal a term from Joe Morris) is akin to Abstract Expressionism to me. How can this mess of notes thrown into the atmosphere coalesce to form a cohesive, or maybe not so cohesive idea? The immense infiniteness of it all is really astounding to me. Every set, it feels like you can dive into the abyss and come out of it either unscathed or totally bent out of shape, satisfied or frustrated, victorious or defeated; but if it’s happening, it’s never boring.
Rail: Who are some of your influences? And who are some folks you admire?
Branch: I consider Fred Anderson, Joe Morris, and Steve Lacy all teachers. As for trumpet or cornet players: Booker Little, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, Don Ayler, Barbara Donald, and Axel Dörner. Contemporary trumpet influences include Rob Mazurek, Birgit Ulher, Mazen Kerbaj, Nate Wooley, Peter Evans, and Josh Berman. I have many jazz heroes, both male and female, like Nicole Mitchell. Mark Rothko is my favorite painter. But right now, I’m influenced most by the folks I play with and or run around town with. Also my dog, Patton and my sister, Kate.
Rail: What are your latest projects?
Branch: Since I moved here almost two years ago, I have been configuring and re-configuring different band structures to see what’s what. My two main projects are my quartet and my trio. Both these bands have records coming out in 2017. My quartet is called Fly or Die and consists entirely of Chicago expats: Tomeka Reid on cello, Jason Ajemian on the double bass, and Chad Taylor on the tubs. Our self-titled record comes out May 5 on the venerable International Anthem Recording Company (IARC) label out of Chicago, Illinois. The first 222 copies will be available on limited edition pigeon shit-colored vinyl. That’s a milky white-transparent with brown and black splatter, special-ass LP. By the time this is readable, I’m pretty sure the pre-order will have started, so, you can cop a copy at intlanthem.com. The quartet plays my compositions. The record is kind of an ode to self-destruction and redemption (in the literal non-Christian way), and reads as a suite. We recorded it last June at my sister’s crib in Red Hook after one rehearsal and two N.Y.C. shows. If you are not familiar with IARC, you gotta check them out—they are putting out important, relevant music that sounds dope. Fly or Die’s N.Y.C. release show will be Wednesday, May 3 at Nublu.
The other main project right now is my trio, the Jaimie Branch Trio, with bassist Brandon Lopez and drummer Mike Pride. This band is melt-your-face-off style free jazz. We play and we go for it and then we stop. It is entirely improvised, although I occasionally give some direction on the bandstand. We recorded last August at Converse Rubber Tracks. Converse gave us free recording time and free shoes—it was a sweetheart deal. Unfortunately, not even Converse can afford Williamsburg these days. They closed up shop but, luckily, not before we got Night Vision Living in the can. Kevin Reilly will release it on Relative Pitch in September 2017.
Rail: What are your plans for the future?
Branch: As far as future plans go, I will be making more records and playing more shows, practicing long tones, making jokes, forgetting the importance of tying my shoes, and running around town. I guess I don’t know what the future brings and before you know it, it’s gone in an instant. My dad recently passed away and I wished I had asked him more questions. This country is in a rough spot right now. Maybe the only way through is to look each other in the eye with compassion and ask the hard questions. I mean, I’m just a dumb musician, but it seems to me that a little bit of love goes a long way. Always more music, more fun, more Major League Baseball, more failures, more everything. That’s what I hope the future brings.
Rail: What future do you see for this music?
Branch: I am excited to not know what’s next. It’s more fun that way.
Rail: Finally, what do you think of all the bullshit that’s out there.
Branch: I love the bullshit. Bring it on.
I’d like to add that on view now through August 2017 at the Jewish Museum is a major collection/installation of Charlemagne Palestine’s teddy bears and other delights. There is also a much-overlooked book of Palestine’s titled Falling n Ranting n Running n Chanting on Filipson Éditions, which contains stills and a DVD of early video works, such as Body Music 1 and 2, Island Song, and Running Outburst—all in their own way extensions of his music. The book also contains a huge interview, rivaling the one we did in 2014 for BOMB Magazine. It ends with this line by Palestine, after he was asked if he ever rehearsed: “Never rehearsal. That’s one of my credos, never rehearsal. Destiny is my rehearsal.” I couldn’t agree more. The book is available at EAI in Chelsea. Palestine will also be performing with Rhys Chatham on April 9 at (le) poisson rouge as part of an ongoing tribute to the late Tony Conrad.
Caught a great set of music last month at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room. Dave Douglas presented his twelve-part piece, Metamorphosis, based on the twelve constellations and featuring a stellar band consisting of Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Susie Ibarra, Mark Dresser, Myra Melford, and Andrew Cyrille (more on him next month). All played to capacity, displaying their skills and individual languages within Douglas’s (improvised) compositions, and through intense free soloing, forming unique textures to blend into what would become one (dis)harmonious universe. Although much was notated (including galactic diagrams), the format was very similar to Wadada’s extended suites and to Zorn’s improvs. The ensemble was divided into groups of players, who kept interchanging, revolving (almost in a circular motion), and merging, with a mass finale at the end. Like the galaxy itself, the set was replete with calmness, disturbances, and collisions. Douglas stated in the program notes that “the wonders of the universe guide me to a space where music comes from a pure source and serves to heal the ills of society.” Boy, do I wish that was the case. My one regret was not staying for set two, since they only played six of the twelve parts, plus two pieces from a different project. The twelve are available as a subscription stream from Douglas’s Greenleaf label.
I never went ga-ga over Lady Gaga, but certainly did about choreographer Ohad Naharin in the doc about his life and work, Mr. Gaga. Though dance is not my primary thing, I highly recommend this film. Quoting Naharin out of context: when listening, “don’t let gravity shape you.”
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.