A centerpiece is the 13-minute "Transition," a quartet with a second cellist and two viola da gamba players. It begins with a deep, mournful solo cello line. Counterpoint arrives, then multiple harmonies, building a theme-and-variations movement reminiscent of early French court music a la Marin Marais. A second movement, percussive and moody, is punctuated by growling bow action and propelled by bouncy, disjointed mini-melodies that swell into modernistic, semi-minimalist moans. One half-expects a third movement, but it doesn't arrive; instead, the piece devolves to the original statement and simply dies out. Very effective.
Having grown out of improvisations, the compositions retain a sense of surprise and whimsy despite the composer's precise performances and perfect intonation. "Tug of War," with William Winant providing a kind of continuo on the marimba, is one of the best examples of this - it's like a little psychedelic jam. Winant's vibraphone intervals on "Livre" take me back to the Twilight Zone, and the brief "Blue Kite" is a gem of tight-fisted anxiety, while other pieces, like the lovely, densely woven "Waiting," are more soothing.
Actually, listening to this darn CD is keeping me from getting my work done. Damn you, Joan Jeanrenaud.
Citizens of Contrary Knowledge, You Are What You Wish You Are...
Here's why it's worth going through the hundreds of CDs that come through your intrepid reviewer's metaphorical transom. Sometimes you come across a band, like Citizens of Contrary Knowledge, that can do it all: play, sing, write, and on a more mysterious level, simply connect.
There are a lot of more or less retro influences here: Led Zeppelin, Foreigner, the Eagles, Stone Temple Pilots. But the grainy rock of tracks like "Complicated" and "Lonely Hearts Society" leap out of the speakers with a finely wrought web of sound and words that pays tribute to those influences while making their own musical statement.