Polka the Elk is built around a bassoon. The bassoon, smiling and shining with a round sunny golden glow, is played by Rachael Elliot of Clogs, and most of the composition work was done by one of Clogs’ co-founders, Padma Newsome, who also composed the group’s 2010 song cycle, The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton, an album I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about. He composed the Elk‘s title track and a longer piece, “With Eyes Cast Down”, a charismatic exploitation of a chamber group’s nimbleness, its ability to jump from a sudden low sound to a sharp high without the weight of an orchestra hanging off its ankles. There’s an Eastern European/Early Music tartness in here that made me think of Michael Nyman before they sapped him over the head with The Piano. The rest of the album is taken up with “Press Release”, a bassoon version of David Lang’s 1991 work for bass clarinet, and Tawnie’s Olson’s “À Mon Seul Désir”—the bassoon drawls at an itchy piano—and “Bed and Rest”, a group composition, warmer and more indie than the rest, a glance back at the musicians’ collaborations with Sufjan Stevens, et al.
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