Got a cassette tape called Bat English (NO LABEL) by The Elks. The Elks is another improvising “supergroup” that’s recently come together on an ad-hoc basis in Berlin. We seem to hear a lot of this kind of bonding taking place. Music brings people together. I suppose it happens a lot on what I imagine to be the “festival circuit”, which might not be anything like the 24-hour party I suppose it to be. In this case we have two of our favourite players, namely Kai Fagaschinski and Liz Allbee, along with the splendid Billy Roisz and Marta Zapparoli.
The quartet refer to themselves as “zookeepers” rather than musicians, a humourous aside which I assume comes from Kai, the clarinet King of Berlin. Recently when we heard from one of his projects, The International Nothing, the improvisers were aligning themselves with jungle beasts renowned for their tough hides – which is something I guess you need in this racket. American trumpeter Liz Allbee endeared herself to our heart with her eccentric and far-out appearances on the Resipiscent label, be it solo or in groups, sometimes teaming up with the bizarre noisester and music theatre player, Hans Grüsel. Lovely to get a few blasts from her “prepared trumpet” on this cassette. She and Kai are pretty much holding down the puffing wing of the fortress, while Roisz – who has been doing some fab work with Angélica Castelló lately – bangs out his Austrian electronic drones, supported by the other voltage-voodler in the act, Marta Zapparoli from Italy. She does it with tapes, intervening in the playback in real time to produce stunning sonics; look out for her work with Ignaz Schick on record.
Captured on the oxide are two recent (2016) sets recorded in Nickelsdorf and Geneva. It’s refreshing stuff…doesn’t seem to owe any allegiances to any current fads or fancies in the improv environs, and the emphasis is on constant invention, drama, shifts in tone, and even a touch of zany humour. The foursome seem very comfortable with other already and unafraid to break their own rules, not getting too precious about staying in the moment. One noticeable feature is that The Elks don’t wallow in samey drones or digital glorp, nor seem to exhibit much interest in the much-lauded “extended technique” thing. Instead, group collective effort all moves towards creating a fascinating, ever-shifting sonic surround-space, where many things and many actions are permitted (especially voices; might be pre-records, might be live, but voices are good), yet the work never becomes a pointless free-for-all bout of spewing and spouting. The Nickelsdorf side wins hands-down for me on account of its warmth, humour, inclusiveness and moments of plain oddness; though you may prefer the understated foggery and mystery which can be found on the Geneva tunes – incidentally recorded at Cave12, a venue whose name keeps coming up these days. Great cover art too, eh? It’s by Liz Allbee. Who wouldn’t want to have a fox standing on hind legs in your living room? 100 copies only, from 16th May 2017.