Saturday, December 18, 2021

LP Reviews: Bridge of Flowers - A Soft Day's Night/ ATTITUDE! - Pause and Effect

Of course, ESP-Disk' has always been about more than just avant-garde jazz. It's very likely that some fans of Beat-poets-turned-songsmiths the Fugs, primitive rockers the Godz or folkies Pearls Before Swine might have memorized those bands' albums for the label while knowing Albert Ayler or Sonny Simmons in name only. Throughout the label's original run in the '60s and early '70s, founder Bernard Stollman released everything from bluegrass to... whatever the hell you would consider the band Cromagnon. (Don't underestimate MIJ the Yodeling Astrologer either.)

Part of the label's current agenda includes a Drive to Revive Weird Rock. (The capitalization comes from the label.) The project began in 2019 with Painted Faces' Tales from the Skinny Apartment and continued last year with OPTO S's Human Indictive/Live. Two new vinyl/download releases continue the weird, with one of them simultaneously sharing space with the label's jazz canon.


Bridge of Flowers
A Soft Day's Night

Don't let the lampoon of a Beatles song turn you off. Bridge of Flowers are a band made for ESP. They don't sound tight in the traditional sense, but these guys are tuned in with one another and create music that feels tight, even when it might sound like the lead guitar is playing a different song ("Aloe Vera") or one of the strings on Shane Bruno's bass could use a tuning. Things never fall apart on A Soft Day's Night - unless these four lads want it to. Things crumble during the climax of "Year Without A Summer" but the mood calls for a dramatic slow down like that. 

Bridge of Flowers reminds me of many bands I've had the pleasure of sharing the stage with, especially in those days before Nevermind came along. These bands never had any regard for the Big Time. Instead they channeled everything into having a memorial 45-minute performance. If a string broke, no problem. If the audience was indifferent, that was their problem. There was rock to be had, if you were smart enough to listen. 

The production on A Soft Day's Night even feels like the mix at such a live show or, even better, at a basement party. Jeff Gallagher's vocals sound like they're coming through an amp that doubles as a vocal p.a. It could have been boosted a bit more in the mix, but it makes curious ears listen closer to try to figure out what "Vinegar and Salt" or "Tambo" are all about.. (Since this entry was originally posted, I found that the album includes a lyric sheet.) The instruments themselves are captured as they were, with little post-production, making these ten songs feel like they could be happening in front of you.

The Massachusetts band has (only) been around since 2016, but had they existed in New York a decade and a half earlier, they probably would have wound up on Shimmy-Disc, who would have provided a perfect home for their lo-fi garage rock. Maybe they would have hit the road and come to town for a show that a select few would be talking about years later. These days, it's hard to tell if the band is a local project that doesn't stray from their backyard or if, someday when it's safe, they might play on a Wednesday night in your town. In the meantime, it's best to get in on the ground floor and dig it. 

Pause and Reflect

The trio ATTITUDE! wants to be part of both styles of ESP. Side One of Pause and Effect presents them as a noise trio ranting against sexual stereotypes and racism, the pandemic and politics. The flip features a side-long track of flowing free jazz improvisation. They excel in both situations.

All three women in the group hail from different Asian countries. Guitarist/pianist Rose Tang is a Mongol from Sichuan. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito hails from Japan. Drummer Wen-Tin Wu was born in Taiwan. Each plays in a numerous other projects in New York. Pause and Reflect happened after they came together to play one song at an event. ESP, knowing their individual works, wanted an album.

Tang, who does most of the vocals, makes it clear that she has no tolerance for submissive Asian stereotypes in "Who Flung Dung." "Flames with No Names" salutes Asian protesters (she was there at Tiananmen Square) with honesty and immediacy. As she attacks her guitar, Ishito and Wu weave around her words, integrating with them rather than filling up the background. The saxophone especially acts as punctuation to the spoken performance. "Gimme the Mic," something of an opening manifesto, finds Tang positing, "The world is a theater of the absurd. The space?" Her bandmates immediately answer that question with her: "Ours!" In "8 Steps/7 O'Clock," those bandmates step up the mic following some thrash jazz that morphs into free percussion with echo-heavy vocals. 

For "Conversation," a 24-minute track, Tang switches to piano. Other than some wordless vocalizing at certain points, the trio becomes a free improvisation group. Things are loose but directed. Ishito avoids wild shrieking in favor of a more contemplative flow of lines, often in the midrange. Wu plays in waves that complement Tang's cascading lines. Not since Patty Waters' Sings has ESP presented two vastly different sides of one performer on an album. Although a comparison like that says more about ESP's everlasting sense of adventure than it does about ATTITUDE!, who proudly proclaim they're "starting a revolution with culture." 

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