Few jazz revolutionaries have taken seriously Albert Ayler's improvisations on the bagpipes, an instrument only wholly showcased in albums by the neglected Rufus Harley. Bridgeleap, a western Canadian band with the unlikely instrumentation of bagpipes, trumpet, tablas and digital beats, has taken Ayler's occasional bagpipe blowing seriously, boldly creating an album of Ayler's greatest hits, with the bagpipe, full-blast, at the center of the proceedings.
The band's leader, Gus "Gussie" Plaid, opens the album with an arrangement of "Love Cry" with the Inuit trumpeter Unu "Youknew" Miles playing a muted cry resembling the archetypal Canadian beaver in orgasm, a cry of love penetrating even the castle-like walls of sound created by Plaid's pipes. The percussion created by tabla wizard Mel "Pow" Melon and Beat Box "Roland" establishes a complex polyrhythmic foundation, suggesting beaver wails as they shrink, dammed, damned in the Heartland.
Following "Love Cry" is "Ghosts," a multitracked bagpipe theme resembling the hocketed brass choirs of the late African funk star Kutie Fela. Trumpeter Unu spits repeatedly into his mouthpiece, copying an ancient shamanic technique used to invite ghosts to jam. Melon turns mellow, playing a baby rattle with his left hand while his right elbow dampens the sound of his tabla head, producing a sound like a hungry ghost caught in a laundromat tumbler.
Most daring, and arguably the disc's climax, is the group's version of Ayler's "The Truth Is Marching In," a timely reminder of how Canadians can imitate a New Orleans march at floodtide just as well as, to use a pop music reference, Kenny Gee and his Whizzers. Plaid triple-tongues his pipes, creating terrifying, half-valve bleats on an instrument without half-valves. Unu, taking a page from the ECM sound, creates a far northern, wolf-like, trance-like timbre on his virtual trumpet, a new technology from Mirage in which a helmeted player actually plays a trumpet that exists only as a digitalized image that is programmed to crash every ten measures, thus requiring a skill undreamt of by Ayler, rebooting the horn. You can hear Unu chant in his deep, throaty style a variety of sacred sounds when his horn calls for rebooting. Melon and Beat Box play like a mall's floor when doors open for an after-holiday sale.
It would have been nice if this release had included a DVD, since Bridegeleap's live shows include two neo-Celtic tap dancers who do nearly suicidal leaps from the stage during Unu's frequent crashes. Another criticism involves the booklet notes, a transcribed debate after midnight at the Kidding Factory between Stanley Crutch and himself, about the African roots of that swinging Celtic ballad, "Blame It On My Youth." These flaws aside, this is a remarkable release from a band only known by a small cult of Spike Jones and Nihilist Spasm Band fans.
Their label, Thistle Groove, promises a motherlode of new releases, including Unu's solo album Crash, Test & Reboot
, a special all-bagpipes band session recreating the teen frenzy at Frank Sinatra's first dates ("I Blew It My Way"), and Polar Bear Beats
, a benefit album to keep Canada's ever-roaming polar bears well tranquilized on anti-depressants so they don't do performance art in Banff.