An improvised set from London's Cafe Oto in 2019 by an Anglo/Swedish trio brings together the piano and electronics of Pat Thomas (Derek Bailey's Company, Blacktop, Shifa), the saxophones of Sture Ericson (Position Alpha, The Electrics) and drums of Raymond Strid (Gush, Tarfala Trio, Barry Guy New Orchestra). After years of familiarity they united under the moniker Bagman in 2018, though this is the outfit's debut. As befits the principals' backgrounds in improv, free jazz and slightly more mainstream fare, and a shared predilection for volatile dynamics, the four cuts on the 46-minute album roam broadly and unpredictably.
Thomas wields his electronics sparingly, contributing whooshes and beeps to the quiet stirrings which commence "Bagcut," before majoring on piano for much of the remainder, which alternates between near silence and vigorous outbursts of crashing clusters, overblown tenor saxophone and rumbling drums. At times like these Thomas takes a very rhythmic approach. His minimalist variations during "Catbug" act as both accelerant and textural detail, recalling his work with the group [Ahmed] where he takes such repetition to its logical but inspired conclusion. It's during this piece that the band fleetingly almost comes within hailing distance of the tradition.
Strid likewise proves equally at home with either pulse or timbral exchange, often blending one into the other. However there's no mistaking where his roiling clatter is going on "Cutbag." It starts at a peak and stays there, with Thomas stabbing at the two extremes of the keyboard simultaneously while Ericson wails on tenor. The saxophonist sometimes reminds of John Butcher in his affinity for fraying split tones, but on this showing he tends even more to the forthright cries of free jazz.
He and Thomas embark on an explosive dash at the beginning of "Bugcat," before the energy unexpectedly subsides to launch a series of organically emerging but distinct moods. Ericson personifies another of the threesome's traits at the end of the piece: knowing when to play and when not to. He wisely sits out the last few minutes, allowing Thomas' spare chords to conjure a valedictory feel, one which is also cathartic after all the intense dialogue, making a satisfying ending not only to the cut but to the whole set.
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