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Bag o' Cats
Out of the Bag
Greentrax (www.greentrax.com)

There is a willful serenity about Sunday morning television news programs; welcome, pleasant, yet restive in their temporary refutation of the accustomed din of daily life. This lovely recording by the Scottish instrumental quintet Bag o' Cats recalls just such peace, just such suspense, its dynamic understatement, like a whisper, drawing the listener ever closer to a mighty odd but ultimately pleasing congeries of musical influences and sound textures.

"Rainstick," the first track, is slow and meditative; whistle, clarinet, and cittern evoke a Native American fantasy. The ragged beat of "Raven," the first of many Balkan-inspired tracks, is subtly pursued by cittern and percussion, while its dramatic theme is carried by clarinets, saxes, and whistles, alternating on jazzy breaks. "Glen Kabul" presents a characteristically crazed kopanitsa on pipes, soprano sax, and whistles, booming double bass providing the rhythmic drive; the aptness of the sax solo is unsurprising, but the sinuous pipe breaks are a revelation. The traditional "King of Laois" emerges from an initial chaos of pipes in the hazy distance into a bounding, exuberant pipe-led waltz, subtly driven by whiskey barrel drum and double bass, pipes doubling into harmony on the final verse. The long "Basant Muchari" appropriates an Indian theme, with manditar, a mandola-sitar crossbreed, and recorder slowly introducing lively, tuned udu and tampura percussion, small pipes adding the final touches to a lilting highland raga. The climax of "Out of the Bag" is "Popocatepetl." Much as Dead Can Dance can create compelling fantasy musical traditions, Bag o' Cats on this long, dramatic piece welds marching percussion and border pipes into an awesome, alien processional, transfixing in its perplexing beauty, soprano sax adding flourishes, double bass inserting thrilling slide siren fanfares. Bag o' Cats is confident enough on "Out of the Bag" to seduce rather than overwhelm. - Jim Foley


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