Bag o' Cats,
Out of the Bag
(Greentrax, 2001)

Out of the Bag is an exciting album of original, Celtic-world fusion. The five members of Bag o' Cats play mostly traditional and jazz instruments, but with them create music that sounds like a tour of Europe, with nods to the Middle East.

Out of the Bag has a lot of variety, but sometimes lacks a feeling of unity. The styles vary wildly, and while none of the transitions are jarring, they're not smooth either; the album has the sound of individual pieces but not an overall whole. Since none of the changes are disturbing, this is a minor point, but it does indicate an area that could benefit from some attention.

The Celtic pieces featuring pipes are strong points on the album. The original "Popocatepetl" is one of the most traditional pieces despite its Aztec name, and it's followed by the traditional "King of Laois" in an original arrangement. Then comes a solo take on a reel, "Itsno Reel," done meditatively by a bass clarinet. "Halkidiki" alternates Celtic pipes in a traditional sound with soprano sax and recorders that wander Europe, combining Celtic styles with Mediterranean sounds. "Inverleith Park" is a quieter Celtic piece, with a whistle and border pipes nicely set off by the clarinets, bass and cittern. "Making Hay" isn't exactly Celtic, but one can hear the Celtic influences, particularly in the ornamentation of this quiet yet lively piece.

Bag o' Cats is equally strong in other musical styles. "Moody Rudy" is a mellow jazz piece, and "Rainstick" is also mellow, with a world music approach. "Basant Muchari" has an Indian or Middle Eastern flavor, while "Glen Kabul" and "Raven" have a Gypsy sound -- itself a blend of musical styles.

The percussionist and bass player deserve a special mention here. Although their skills did not tend to be the featured aspect of the songs, their playing bound the others together into a coherent whole, and set off the other players' work beautifully.

The liner notes are minimal, listing the instruments played on each track but little else. The entire interior is filled with a landscape photograph of rough terrain. While it's a nice picture, I would have preferred more information on the songs and the musicians.

Out of the Bag is an enjoyable album, and Bag o' Cats a group of talented and interesting musicians. This CD will be of interest to fans of the pipes, especially those who enjoy hearing them played in less-traditional contexts.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 15 September 2001

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