Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Out May 21 – Two Major Box Sets from Wadada Leo Smith on TUM Recordings

TUM Records Celebrates
Wadada Leo Smith’s 80th Birthday Year!

Throughout 2021, TUM Records will celebrate the coming 80th birthday of renowned composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith with a series of new releases showcasing his monumental artistic vision. The yearlong celebration kicks off on May 21 with a pair of three-CD boxed sets, one an inspiring solo trumpet recording captured in a beautiful historic setting (Trumpet), the other a meeting of three true masters, Smith, Bill Laswell and Milford Graves (Sacred Ceremonies).

The new releases also bring to ten the total number of Wadada Leo Smith’s projects on TUM Records. These releases have ranged from solo and duo settings to large ensembles and an oratorio, always featuring a different aspect of Wadada Leo Smith’s uncompromising artistic vision.

“It is with great pride that TUM Records presents Wadada Leo Smith’s latest releases and thereby commences the celebration of his coming 80th birthday,” says TUM Records founder Petri Haussila. “From the very beginning, it has been our goal to foster longer term relationships with our artists, among whom Wadada Leo Smith has a special place of honor. We now have released ten projects with Wadada, each unique in its own way. Among these, Trumpet and Sacred Ceremonies are the most extensive yet. We salute Wadada for his 80th Anniversary and look forward to our continued collaboration.”

• Sacred Ceremonies – 3 CD Box Set – May 21, 2021
Disc 1: Wadada Leo Smith & Milford Graves
Disc 2: Wadada Leo Smith & Bill Laswell
Disc 3: Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Laswell & Milford Graves

• Trumpet – 3 CD Box Set – May 21, 2021
Featuring 14 new compositions for solo trumpet including four extended works

Other TUM albums coming out in the near future include:
• Title TBA – 2 CD Set – Great Lakes Quartet – release date TBA 
Featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, Jack DeJohnette, John Lindberg
• Title TBA – 4 CD set of trumpet & drum duets – release date TBA 
Featuring Wadada with Jack DeJohnette, Andrew Cyrille, Han Bennink, Pheeroan akLaff
• Title TBA – 6 CD set featuring Smith’s 12 String Quartets – release date TBA 

Wadada’s Winter from Four Symphonies, world premiere 
Performed by Ithaca College School of Music Percussion Ensemble directed by Dr Mike Truedell. Live streamed from Ithaca College on March 6 
The Ithaca College’s Percussion Ensemble’s performance of Winter will also be re-broadcast as part of the Necessary Noise Festival in New Jersey in August
April 5 - May 15 – Residency at the New School, NYC
A five-week residency focusing on Winter from Four Symphonies for ensemble

May 3 – 11:30 a.m. – Symphony no. 2 Winter, from Four Symphonies 
presented by the New School’s MM Performer-Composer Ensemble
June 10-13 – Residency at New Music at the Point, Vermont
The JACK Quartet will perform Wadada’s String Quartet No. 13th at the Vermont Jazz Festival. www.newmusiconthepoint.com
June 10, 2021 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra Sessions: World premiere of Wadada Leo Smith’s Delta Blues for violin, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, piano and cello. CSO Sessions Episode 21: Cult of Electromagnetic Connectivity
October 7, 2021 – Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Elson Lecture and performance of a new work featuring Wadada, Vijay Iyer and Andrew Cyrille
October 16, 2021 – Other Minds Festival, San Francisco CA
Wadada’s Reflections and Meditations on Monk Project with video artist Jesse Gilbert

December 18, 2021 – Wadada’s 80th Birthday 
Streaming concert featuring Duet performances. More information TBA

Jazz Aspen Snowmass' 30th Anniversary | June 18 – September 7, 2021

JAS 30th Anniversary Summer Updates
June 18 – September 7, 2021

Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ 30th anniversary unfolds against a backdrop of growing optimism about what the summer of 2021 will look like for live music performances.  

JAS plans to present its full summer season of small venue concerts, focused on safe and distanced in-person “live” performances starting the weekend of June 18-20 (Food & Wine time historically), followed immediately by the June JAS Experience June 24-27 and the JAS Café summer season of July/August performances. 

“We are closely monitoring the evolving health guidelines and protocols emerging in our industry both nationally and internationally,” stated JAS President & CEO Jim Horowitz. “We are confident that we will be able to safely manage the crowds at all our smaller venues hosting JAS June and summer JAS Café performances. We expect thrills, tears and frequent enthusiastic applause after the long forced silence of live music during COVID-19’s rampage.”

With many national large outdoor festivals being re-scheduled from 2020 to mid-summer & early fall 2021 (including three major US festivals in addition to JAS over Labor Day weekend led by Bonnaroo which went on sale April 1st), JAS is optimistic its annual season closing festival over Labor Day weekend will take place based on Pitkin County Health guidelines at the time. JAS plans to announce its final line-up of Artists for the event in June.  

Also this summer, JAS’ flagship all-scholarship JAS Academy in collaboration with Frost School of Music at the University of Miami will expand from two to four weeks, adding a “Small Combo” Sessions segment from July 11–25 to complement its “Big Band” Sessions July 26–August 7, led under the direction of GRAMMY® Award-winning bassist, Christian McBride.

Summer Highlights:
The June Experience will include a total of eight performance venues. General admission passes include shows at The Little Nell, Here House at Local Coffee, Belly Up, and the Wheeler Opera House. Patron/VIP pass holders will enjoy music at The Velvet Buck at the St. Regis, rooftop at the Aspen Art Museum, and at the Durant St. Patron Tent located at the ice rink. Additional single ticket performances will take place at the Hotel Jerome for the first time since 1991. 

The majority of the June Experience line-up includes artists who were originally scheduled to perform in June 2020. The summer JAS Café series also hosts many favorite JAS artists originally scheduled to perform in 2020.

“Our over-riding theme for 2021 is celebrating our musical roots. Hence, the artistic program is filled with Artists who have a long history with the family of JAS, having performed numerous times to great audience acclaim through the years, while also sprinkling the program with numerous artist debuts. At the same time, JAS shines a particular light in its June & JAS Café season on the Roots of American popular music …. Gospel, Blues & Early Jazz which emerged after the Civil War and laid the foundation for the explosion of American popular music and recording in the 20th Century,” said Horowitz.

Among the highlights of the June Experience: 
Featured as part of the Patron/VIP program: dazzling 8-time GRAMMY® Award-winning a cappella vocal sextet Take 6 (Durant St. Patron Tent, June 25); the explosive sounds fusing jazz with reggae rhythms of Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express (AAM, June 25); multiple GRAMMY® winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (Velvet Buck, June 25); and the swinging & sultry NYC jazz vocalist Carolyn Leonhart (Velvet Buck, June 27).

Included in both the Patron/VIP and general admission programs: Denver’s beloved funk outfit The Motet (Belly Up, June 25/Durant St. Patron Tent, June 26); the classic '70s sound (featuring all original arrangements sanctioned by the Estate) of The Family Stone (Durant St. Patron Tent, June 25, Belly Up, June 26); high energy swinging trad-jazz dripping with humor & theatre from the wildly popular Sammy Miller & the Congregation (Belly Up, June 26; Durant St. Patron Tent Sunday Brunch Shows, June 27); and the legendary, multi-winning W.C. Handy Blues award winning vocalist, Ms. Bettye Lavette, in her JAS debut (Wheeler Opera House, June 25, Velvet Buck, June 26); and from New Orleans Tuba Skinny, a wildly inventive former street band who meld early trad jazz with Dixieland, drums, folk and more ( AAM, June 24 & Wheeler Opera House, June 27).

Additional highlights for general admission pass holders include: brilliant solo guitar and mouth percussion from Brazilian Badi Assad (Here House, June 25-26); stunning flamenco guitar from Juanito Pascual (Here House, June 27); and a soul-stirring pair of deeply soulful and funky Hammond B-3 Organ Quartets Delvon Lamarr and Jamison Ross (The Little Nell, June 25-27) each bringing their smokin’ B-3 Trio’s plus special guests on guitar.  

At the Hotel Jerome Ballroom on Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26 a blistering New Orleans Revue featuring Dumpstaphunk with bassist George Porter, Jr. and the legendary pianist/vocalist Jon Cleary will be available on a single ticket basis, not included in the Experience passes. Ticket options include an early dinner show, featuring a 3-course New Orleans inspired dinner provided by the Hotel Jerome and a late show music only option.

Among the highlights of the JAS Café Series: 
A special weekend opening the summer season will be announced soon taking place over the former Food & Wine Classic dates (June 18-19); urbane jazz vocalist & saxophonist Curtis Stigers (July 9); legendary jazz-fusion pioneers The Yellowjackets who performed at the Benedict Music Tent on the opening weekend of Jazz Aspen June 1991 (July 10); jazz pianist and Frost School of Music Dean Shelly Berg & Friends (July 23); Caribbean Carnivale sounds of jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles & Creole Soul (July 24); JAS Academy Artistic Director and multi-Grammy winning bassist Christian McBride & Tip City (Aug. 5); the premier male jazz vocalist of his generation, Kurt Elling, in his long overdue JAS Café debut (Aug. 6); the return of a favorite JAS vocalist, Catherine Russell, in a Blues focused program paying tribute to early blues pioneers like Bessie Smith (Aug. 13); and another JAS debut, the wildly creative fusion of jazz, African rhythms & bluegrass sounds of Pascal Bokar’s Afro Blue Grazz Band (Aug. 15). Additional JAS Café shows will be announced at a later date.   

The JAS June Experience will operate under the guidelines of event gatherings as directed by Pitkin County Health. All venues are projected to operate at much lower capacities than in 2019, with a maximum of 50–100 persons allowed to attend each performance. A limited number of three-day general admission passes will be available for sale at 9am MST on Friday, April 23 at axs.com/jasaspen. At this time all Patron/VIP passes are sold-out based on 2020 purchasers choosing to move their tickets to 2021 following last years event postponement.

If capacities and/or distancing requirements change to allow more attendees by early summer, additional seats will be opened for purchase. “Surprise” events yet to be revealed will be announced at a later date in multiple venues.

The JAS Café series, with shows taking place on the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum and at the Velvet Buck in the St. Regis, will go on-sale this Friday at 9am as well. Tickets can be purchased at axs.com/jasaspen or 970-920-4996. Each night at the Café will feature two performances at 7pm and 9:15pm. 

On June 21, 1991, the three-day “Jazz Aspen” festival was born in Aspen, marked by an opening night Gala at the Hotel Jerome; a New Orleans Brass Band parade circling the Hyman & Cooper pedestrian malls, and, two nights of concerts at the Benedict Music Tent, each featuring three stellar Artists. Thirty years later, JAS plans to celebrate their history and roots, while helping to be a major part of this summer’s highly anticipated re-opening of Aspen.

For more information on JAS summer plans and more, please visit jazzaspensnowmass.org.

Bryan McCune & Brian Kooken - Spiral​.​.​.​let’s go out West (April 2021)

North Carolina Cornetist/composer Bryan McCune, and Baltimore guitarist/composer Brian Kooken released this adventurous album of free improvisations, original compositions, and the odd traditional song originally in 1998. North Carolina percussionist Francis Dyer also contributed to a number of the tracks

1. Joe D. 06:25
2. Malaig 07:55
3. On again, Off again 03:28
4. Wildwood Flower 08:19
5. Malaga 08:41
6. Free thing 08:02
7. Give Me Liberty Waltz 05:36
8. Chant 04:20
9. The Nice Song 02:52
10. Spiral...let's go out West 08:01
11. frere jacques 01:07

Giovanni Di Domenico - Musica Per Insiemi (April 2021)

If it were possible to relate images with Giovanni Di Domenico's music, the most plausible would be those of forms painted with perfect balance and purity. Absolutely versatile and eclectic, the Italian composer has long accustomed us to sounds full of ecstatic tension, but pervaded with a refined and cyclical harmony of the parts. Musica Per Insiemi is the result of three recordings with three different ensembles, two more varied in terms of orchestral tones, one for organ only and female voices. In their different physiognomy, the tracks retain a common denominator of beauty. Di Domenico has firmly established the frame of reference in his compositions, the spine of ethereal movements of the piano and fender rhodes.

The mood of the other instruments are attached by subtle stratifications, like a river from which its tributaries wind. In this way, the sound matter advances with the solemn calm and brilliance of the individual fragments. The variety of influences remains in the perennial expectation of minimalist whiteness, of contemporary arias with a Nordic flavor or scents of cosmic drones, but always results in a personal and mysterious overview.

1. Kyu-u-ri 15:22
2. Go-Bo 17:03
3. Slides 09:33

All music composed by Giovanni Di Domenico.

Mixing by Giovanni Di Domenico at The Nest Cellar, Brussels.
Master & lacquer cut by Frederic Alstadt at Angtrom Mastering, Brussels.

Kyu-u-ri was commissioned by Bruno Letort for Ars Musica Festival 2018 and premiered at BOZAR (Brussels) in November 2018.

Played by Giovanni Di Domenico (Fender Rhodes & electronics) and Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles: Jean Paul Dessy (conductor), Berten D’Hollander (alto flute), Charles Michiels (clarinet), Adrien Lambinet (trombone), André Ristic (piano), Pierre Quiriny (vibraphone/crotales), Hughes Kolp (electric guitar), Claire Bourdet (1st violin), Laurent Hoque (2nd violin), Karel Koninx (viola), Jean-Pol Zanutel (cello).
Recorded by Jarek Frankowski.

Go-bo was recorded by Giovanni Di Domenico during a residency at Theatre 140, Brussels, in April 2018.

Is played by: Ananta Roosens (viola stringed violin), Benoît Leseure (violin), Jean Philippe Feiss (cello), Manolo Cabras (double bass) and Giovanni Di Domenico (piano, Fender Rhodes, electronics).

Slides was also recorded by Giovanni Di Domenico during the same residency at Theatre 140, Brussels, in April 2018.

Is played by Giovanni Di Domenico (organs) and Patshiva CIE (voices): Charlotte Couturier, Dorothée Dassy, Céline De Vos, Dounia Depoorter, Manuela de Tervarent, Amélie Dieudonné, Bérengère Dupuis, Mathilde Henkinbrant, Roxane Lefebvre, Virginie Pierre, Fatou Traoré.

Àlex Cassanyes - Composició II (April 2021 UnderPool)

Composició II is a concept album that revolves around the idea of art as a refuge. Cassanyes has drawn inspiration from different art forms such as painting, literature and sculpture and each of the new compositions that make up the album, many of which were composed during the lockdown, have been inspired by works by artists such as Alfred Sisley, Enrique Vila Matas, Ernest Hemingway or Jaume Plensa, all of whom Cassanyes deeply admires.

The delicate melodies and the carefully constructed arrangements, written for a nonet made up of some of the most highly regarded local musicians, confirm that we are in the presence of one of the composers with greatest potential on the current scene.

Àlex Cassanyes describes life through music, using his art as a means of communication to transmit the emotions that are essential for our well being.

1. Organic John 07:23
2. La débacle de la Seine à Port-Marly 10:04
3. El Realismo Visceral 08:26
4. Shakespare & Company 04:55
5. D'ailleurs, c'est tojours les autres qui meurent 10:20
6. Els primers freds 08:38
7. Paisatge 06:35
8. Spiegel 03:25
9. Olhar nos meus sonhos, Awilda 08:07

Alba Careta – Trumpet
Alba Pujals – Trombone
Marcel·lí Bayer -Alto Sax, Clarinet
Sergi Felipe -Tenor Sax, Flute
Jordi Santanach – Tenor Sax, Bass Clarinet
Leo Tejedor – Guitar
Néstor Giménez – Piano
Manel Fortià – Bass
Ramon Prats – Drums

All music composed and arranged by Àlex Cassanyes

Recorded Live at Teatre de L’Aurora, Igualada 9 November 2020
Recorded by Adrià Serrano and Sergi Felipe
Mixed by Sergi Felipe. Master joan Hernàndez
Cover Draw by Àlex Cassanyes. Design Pepon Meneses
Produced by Estival de Jazz d’Igualada and UnderPool

Jonathan Butler Performs in South African Freedom Day Celebration

South African Singer Songwriter Jonathan Butler
Performs in Special Freedom Day Celebration

South African Embassy and
America's Voices Against Apartheid
Commemorate 27 Years of Freedom and Democracy

April 27 at 12:00PM ET
Join us for a virtual celebration, April 27 at 12:00PM ET/6:00PM SAST, in honor of Freedom Day in South Africa. This year we will pay special tribute to South African activist and advocate Charlotte Maxeke for her unwavering commitment to educate, inform and mobilize Americans and South Africans around the anti-apartheid movement.

Event highlights include civil rights activist and journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault as the moderator, panelist Elfred Anthony Pinkard, President of Wilberforce University, and a heartfelt tribute from South African singer-songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler.

Visit here for more information on America's Voices Against Apartheid Project.

For more information on Jonathan Butler, please visit: JonathanButler.com

ZmoodFellaZ - ZmoodFellaZ play Bud Powell (April 27, 2021)

This is the Debut album of the ZmoodFellaZ. This group was formed in late 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. It consist of Jonah Cabral on Alto Saxophone, Mattia Matranga on Bass, Dmitri Tsvetkov on Drums and Kumar Roozen on Piano. The album is dedicated to one of the masters of bebop and the jazz tradition, Bud Powell. The tunes played on this album have a little twist that engages listeners but still salutes the genius mind of Bud and his creative compositions.

1. Glass Enclosure 05:53
2. The Fruit 05:16
3. Oblivion 05:11
4. Time Waits/Dusk in Sandi 06:05
5. Willow Grove 05:59
6. Tempus Fugit (Tempus Fugue-It) 03:18

The Zone - The Zone (July 3, 2021 STUDIO III RECORDINGS)

The Zone is a concept album written by Italian composer Daniele Del Monaco for a band of performers fom New York City who are usually affiliated with avant-jazz and free improvisation.

Through the interaction of the five musicians, guided by Del Monaco’s experimental sensibility on keys and sound generators, this recording turns out a unique and ambitious combination of Fay Victor’s urban jazz vocals, Marco Cappelli’s guitar, combining elements of classical music and free improvisation, the at times extreme dynamics of Satoshi Takeishi’s performance on the drums, and the virtuosity of bassist Ken Filiano.

Del Monaco’s radical approach to creating music is rooted in a slow process of working through a score with classical musicians and free improvisers, balancing meticulous compositions with the setting of parameters for free improvisation.
In his lyrics, Del Monaco appropriates the words of Persian poet and mystic Farid al-Din‘Attar’s epic ‘The Conference of the Birds’ and Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ to create a narrative in which the ideas and imagery of poets and philosophers interact. Byron, Keats, Diogenes, Thoreau and Buddha all meet within the framework of ‘Attar’s journey in search of truth and the Stalker’s journey through ‘The Zone’. The search for the mythical room within is capable of granting a person their innermost desires. The result is a set of seven songs filled with allusive and symbolic imagery, exploring the relationship between beauty and possession.

The majority of the album was recorded between 2018 and 2019 by Alessandro Benedetti in Rome, Italy. Benedetti tragically passed away before the sessions were finished, at which point Martin Bisi in Brooklyn, NY took over the recording work. The album’s journey then continued on to Sheffield UK, where it was completed and mixed by producer Thomas Lebioda for Studio III Recordings in 2020.

Throughout its development, a number of guest musicians have accompanied Del Monaco for live performances of The Zone: Blixa Bargeld, Theodosii Spassov and Marco Ariano joined the LCP Percussion Quintet in October 2014 for a first performance at Centro Campania in Caserta, IT. In November 2018, Marc Ribot joined the Band for a rendition at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, IT, organised and produced by RomaEuropa festival. 

1. A Loud Noise 11:05
2. Look At The Stalker 07:16
3. Into The Zone 05:28
4. We Are Lost 05:01
5. Seven Valleys 12:08
6. What Am I Doing Here 06:55
7. The Room 09:35

recorded by Alessandro Benedetti at Loadistrict, Rome, Italy
and by Martin Bisi at BC Studio, Brooklyn, NY
mixed by Thomas Lebioda at The Laundry Rooms, Sheffield, UK
mastered by Karsten Deutschmann at Gentle Art, Hamburg, Germany
lacquers cut by Noel Summerville, London UK

Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die Live (May 21, 2021 International Anthem)

Full flight capture of the full Fly or Die suite, parts 1 & 2 compounded & flawlessly communicated in a singular epic of raw cosmic brilliance.

Full story in the words of Piotr Orlov here:

There is a moment near the top of jaimie branch’s FLY or DIE LIVE, the new album recorded by the trumpeter’s quartet in Zurich, Switzerland on January 23rd, 2020, which feels like it bears the weight of both that specific pocket of time, and a prophecy for all that was soon to come. branch and her Fly or Die crew — cellist Lester St. Louis, double bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer/percussionist/mbira player Chad Taylor — had just kicked off the concert at Moods, with the opening tracks off their then-new studio album FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, the second of which, “Prayer for Amerikkka” is among the best political songs written during the Tr*mp Era, and when the moment in question pops off.

The multi-part “Prayer” begins as a goth-blues stomp, its moaning ghosts flying around the room. A week into a European tour and after three months of constant live performance, Fly or Die is at home in this new song’s contours, messing with its internal machinery while guiding its meaning. By now, “Prayer” had gained a tough spoken-word intro, bringing the context as it slowly gearshifts the intensity: “It’s a song about America,” off-the-cuffs branch while the band seethes behind her, “but it’s about a whole lotta places — ‘cause it’s not just America where shit’s fucked up...” Then arrives the climax, at once site-specific and far-reaching: “...and it’s not always time to be neutral, do you know what I mean?”

The gathered Swiss crowd knows, understands, and responds vocally, as Taylor’s backbeats cue branch to bring the trumpet to her lips, and let out a high-pitched wail. Her horn doesn’t know what’s about to happen to our world, and yet, somehow, it does — with only the catastrophic details needing to be worked out. For the next 12 minutes, “Prayer” careens through its twists of wide-eyed racism and family separation, Ajemian and Taylor driving branch’s punk-jazz Morricone horn line. “This is a warning, honey…” cries the song, and over the ensuing 70 minutes, the band echoes its sentiment, filled with glee and terror.

Where were you in January of 2020, those last moments of the Before Times? Where was your mind, your body, your soul? Did you have plans, hopes and aspirations for the oncoming calendar trip around the sun just starting its initial turn? Were you embroiled in the turmoil continuing to roil the feeds and the headlines, or steeling yourself for the ones that we all knew were incoming during an especially contentious American election year? Maybe both. Or maybe you felt there was some hope blowing in the air.

“There was so much promise for the year,” remembers branch. A world of possibilities was certainly pending for Fly or Die leading into 2020 and that Zurich gig. The group was in their favored environment, the stage, where their individual relationships had been molded. branch and Ajemian had been playing together since the mid-’00s in Chicago, and admiring Taylor’s work with the Chicago Underground and at the city’s legendary Velvet Lounge jam-session for just as long.

When Fly or Die made its debut at Brooklyn’s Manhattan Inn in 2016, they made up three-quarters of the band. branch and St. Louis met in 2015 after jaimie first moved to New York, while St. Louis was working at the Spectrum club where branch played on occasion. (Soon St. Louis replaced original Fly or Die cellist Tomeka Reid, who departed the band to concentrate on her own myriad of commitments.) In the years since, this quartet had grown into a powerful unit, adept at conjuring musical environments that could be forceful and rhythmic one moment, and fragile the next.

“So much of what the band is about is the trust between the players and the rapport on stage,” says branch. “The trust means no one's going to drop the ball. The band is all improvisers, that's a really key thing. (A lot of people improvise, but not everybody's an improviser.) And I feel like this band especially is made up of them. So much of the music is led with the ears first.”

On Fly or Die’s sophomore album Bird Dogs of Paradise, which dropped in October 2019, branch had composed and recorded a batch of songs that showcased a political perspective and cutting sense of humor, balancing experimentalism and accessibility, party and erudition, “jazz” and the next thing. They were now headed out on the road to show off these songs — “the most touring this band would have ever done,” according to branch — integrating them in suite-like fashion with music from branch’s critically acclaimed 2017 debut. High on the work they were presenting, ready to lock into, and have some fun with it.

The late fall saw a month-long tour of Europe; December featured record release shows in LA, Brooklyn and Chicago; then in January, it was back to the EU for a two-week (no days off) sprint, of which the Thursday night at Zurich fell almost directly in the middle. The night before, January 22nd, at Oslo’s Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene was an upbeat one — St. Louis’ partner had surprised him by flying in from the States; and branch, who earlier thought she’d lost a bag with her passport, documents and cash, had it returned by their van driver after the gig. (No reason for anyone to notice that the Coronavirus had made its debut on the front-page of the New York Times that day.)

The positive energy carried over to Switzerland. Soundcheck at Moods, “a big, nice theater in the middle of Zurich,” went well. branch had to talk the venue into the band doing one long set instead of two, but she also agreed to them making a multi-track recording of the set. “The vibe in the band was pretty high,” says Branch.

From the offset, it sounds like that’s the case on both sides of the stage. The calm before the “Prayer” storm finds Taylor’s mbira and branch’s muted horn in a gentle duet, interweaving textures and melodies. The storm’s aftermath, “Lesterlude,” is a St. Louis-bowed solo feature turn, moving the strings towards the noise. Each individual song connects to the next, performed in a continuous, no-stop style, a part of the group’s DNA on record as well as stage. By “Twenty-Three N Me,” they are beginning to stretch into free spaces, and the crowd’s timely enunciations betray the fact that the audience too is up on every note. “Whales,” an Ajemian-led interlude, brings the sound palette to the bottom of the ocean, before Taylor’s intricate, rim-heavy beat returns us to the surface and gets the debut album’s “Theme 001” rolling into a full-on dance number. Approving screams pile up. The quiet-loud/fast-slow alteration continues: Taylor solos softly (“Meanwhile”), before exploding alongside Ajemian to push branch on a supple, double-time swing (“Theme 002,” with branch in Cootie Williams mode).

Later Ajemian’s bass is joined by Taylor’s thumb-piano and St. Louis’ arco, before going on a solo stroll, upping the tempo and ending in the funky second-line swagger of “Simple Silver Surfer” (with great melodic counterpoint by St. Louis). It’s crisp and fun, the laughter in the audience answered on-stage. By the forever set-ending, self-indicting new-bar-standard, “Love Song (For Assholes and Clowns),” branch is conducting the sing-along. Then, soon, it is over.

So, how was it? At the time, Moods was just another stop on a never-ending tour. Italy next, we gotta go. The following month and a half was a blur too, amidst the increasingly dire headlines: the February Pacific Northwest dates found Fly or Die slaying PDX Jazz, but “we keep hearing whispers of this COVID stuff,” and less than 10 days after playing in Seattle, the city finds itself as the first American virus hotspot. In early March, before a gig at DC’s Kennedy Center, there’s a cancellation or two (“a little bit of gloom”). The following night at Brooklyn’s Roulette — the last gig many in attendance would see before quarantine — the bottom drops out (“six cancellations in an hour”). 

The tour ends, and everything stops. Forever — or what increasingly feels like it. Though a tape arrived from Zurich in early May, branch didn’t actually listen to it until the Fall. “I didn't want to be disappointed,” she says. Such was the headspace.

“I didn't have a memory of the show being an amazing show,” branch says. “But sometimes when you have zero memory of it being good or bad, those are the best shows. Because when you're in the zone, in those moments of channeling creativity, there isn't time for judgment. So oftentimes a memory is not created around that judgment, and that's actually a good indication.” When branch did pop the tape in, she was unequivocal: “I think this is like the best that we've ever played.”

Branch’s personal highlight of FLY or DIE LIVE also comes on “Prayer,” and it too speaks of something greater than what you’ll hear on the recordings, or that the audience at Moods is likely to have picked up on: “There’s a moment in Part Two of the song when Jason flips the bassline and there's this moment of weirdness, but nobody even stops—this is what I'm talking about with trust. So I just added half a bar more of a vocal, because I heard Jason got wonky. And then Chad added a [verbalizes a fill]. It's my favorite part of the whole record because I hear the mistake and I hear us bulldoze through it, turn the mistake into a dance — because that's really what it is at the core of all of this, music as dance.” No neutrality there either. 

1. birds of paradise
2. prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 & 2
3. lesterlude
4. twenty-three n me, jupiter redux
5. reflections on a broken sea
6. whales
7. theme 001
8. ...meanwhile
9. theme 002
10. sun tines
11. leaves of glass
12. the storm
13. waltzer
14. slip tider
15. simple silver surfer
16. bird dogs of paradise
17. nuevo roquero estéreo
18. love song
19. theme nothing

Jaimie Branch – trumpet, vocals, vibraslap
Lester St. Louis – cello, vocals, tiny cymbal
Jason Ajemian – bass, vocals, egg shakers
Chad Taylor – drums, vocals, mbira

Recorded Live at Moods, Zurich, Switzerland, 1/23/2020

Engineered by Thierry Looser
Mixed by Dave Vettraino
Mastered by David Allen