jaimie branch had the word Anteloper reserved as a project title before the group existed, but as she and Jason Nazary started rehearsing as a duo, it was clear what their name should be. It’s a portmanteau of antelope and interloper. ‘An antelope walks up to a party, but… people don’t want him around,’ says branch in the press release. I’d suggest an alternate reason for referencing the antelope: they are resilient, resourceful creatures, and if a predator comes hunting, they work together, warning each other, confusing the hunter and running with grace and poise. It is the ability to move in the same direction, as one, without crashing into each other which lines up with jazz improvisation. There may be the occasional accident, but everyone drives towards the same goal.
There’s another animal involved here, in the album title and on the cover. The pink dolphins of the Amazon are not quite as garish as branch’s artwork suggests (and they don’t have the Blinky from The Simpsons eye arrangement either), but they are pink and have adapted to live in freshwater rather than the oceanic habitat of other dolphins. It’s a suitable metaphor for the duo, who can adapt to varying musical environments, having played with numerous other outfits (FLY or DIE, Helado Negro, to name just two). It’s probably a stretch to say that Anteloper have evolved their sound on Pink Dolphins, but they feel more at ease here.
Let’s stick with the animal theme just a little longer: the duo of Anteloper expand to a trio on Pink Dolphins with the addition of Tortoise’s Jeff Parker, who sits in the producer’s chair and contributes bass and guitar to the album. It’s his bass that anchors the woozy “Earthling” and underpins the loping “Delfin Rosado,” which is enlivened further by Chad Taylor’s mbira (aka thumb piano). However, this isn’t a kind of Chicago Underground reunion project – this is driven by branch and Nozary, and it is encouraging to see continual cross-fertilisation between younger musicians and more senior players on the Chicago jazz scene.
As you might anticipate, Pink Dolphins isn’t a traditional-sounding jazz record – if such a thing exists on International Anthem. Although Anteloper may appear to be an acoustic trumpet and drums duo, they utilise a lot of electronic instrumentation. The opening track “Inia” sees Nozary’s drums buffetted by incessant tones: a full two and a half minutes go by before branch’s trumpet makes an appearance. The closing track, “One Living Genus,” burbles in on psychedelic synths and has a lengthy near-ambient coda without drums or trumpet (we expect they are there, just heavily processed). “Earthling” sees branch sing and double-track her trumpet, creating different solos in each channel. There are only five tracks here, but each one is a highlight.
The duo of branch and Nozary first played together 20 years ago, inspired by Miles Davis’s Live Evil. It is fitting that, in the spirit of Miles’s continual evolution of sound, Anteloper keep pushing forward, incorporating fresh techniques and influences into their sound. Although we really like the duo’s name, it perhaps doesn’t fit in with their M.O. branch and Nozary don’t run with the herd, they are distinctive and adventurous – more like pink dolphins. (Jeremy Bye)