Perpetual Motion Machine

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The second album by the contemporary classical quintet Topology favors interpretation over composition. While its first CD featured only compositions by its leader, bassist Robert Davidson, Perpetual Motion Machine offers a selection of "classics" (for lack of a better term) from the repertoire of the American Minimalists, with a few compositions from group members slipped in between. The album starts with a suitably lyrical rendition of Michael Nyman's "And Do They Do," setting the mood for the first half of the disc. Its blatantly melodious lines immediately create a comfort zone that seems to request by itself an excerpt from John Adams' "Nixon in China" to follow ("Pat's Aria," nicely arranged). Saxophonist John Babbage's "Millennium Bug," under two minutes in duration, serves a transitional purpose from the comfortable and acquainted toward the unknown and more difficult. Davidson's "McLibel" is the pièce de résistance: a 12-minute collage of interview clips from the belligerents in a class-action suit against McDonald's in the United Kingdom. The sentences are looped and transcribed into melodies passed from one instrument to the other, the arrangements enhancing and often exaggerating the drama of the situation. The process is not enormously original (René Lussier went much farther with his Le Tresor de la Langue in the late '80s), but is intelligently applied to a chamber ensemble context. On the other hand, the finale is cruelly disappointing. "Viv's Bum Dance," by John Rodgers, is the most difficult piece of the album, complex and circumvoluted. It features pianist Kylie Davidson at the harpsichord, and showcases the tightness of the ensemble. Surprising (and surprisingly convincing) is the arrangement for quintet of fellow Australian Elena Kats-Chernin's "Variations in a Serious Black Dress," originally scored for piano and recorded in 2000 by Lisa Moore. Perpetual Motion Machine is a very good album overall, one that will lead aficionados of American Minimalism to a couple of discoveries.

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