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Krokofant - Krokofant III Rating: 4 out of 5 Allied to their undoubted musical skills Krokofant also have a youthful energy and irreverence that gives their music bite, vitality and relevance.

Krokofant

“Krokofant III”

Rune Grammofon RCD 2189)

I recall being impressed with the playing of the young Norwegian drummer Axel Skalstad at the annual “Trondheim Jazz Exchange” event at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. A graduate of the acclaimed jazz course at Trondheim Conservatoire Skalstad is still only twenty three and is a founder member of the jazz power trio Krokofant who released their eponymous début album on Rune Grammofon in that same year of 2014.

The band began as a duo when Skalstad teamed up with guitarist Tom Hasslan in the Norwegian town of Kongsberg. The pair developed a strong bond playing freely improvised music together and in 2012 saxophonist Jorgen Mathisen was added to the line-up, a more experienced musician who had already gained a favourable reputation for his work with such well known Norwegian groups as The Core and Zanussi Five.

Almost as important to Krokofant’s development has been studio owner and recording engineer Christian Engfelt who has recorded all three of Krokofant’s albums at his Oslo studio. The three recordings all feature a ‘live in the studio’ approach with the band playing together in real time. 

For “Krokofant III” (the band obviously take the same logical and pragmatic approach to album titling as compatriots and label mates Supersilent) the trio improvise around compositional themes brought in by Hasslan or Mathisen. Their music is a blend of jazz improvisation, math rock and old school style prog rock, all played with something of a contemporary jam band mentality. Norway boasts a particularly impressive scene for this type of music with bands such as elephant9 and Reflections In Cosmo, both of which feature Supersilent organist Stale Storlokken, also mining similar seams. 

As regards influences Krokofant have cited classic 70s jazz rock by artists such as John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Norway’s own Terje Rypdal. There’s also the free-wheeling ferocity of hard core improvisers such as Peter Brotzmann and John Zorn and, perhaps crucially, the instrumental output of those still justly revered prog rock pioneers King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. “It’s our mission to bring more prog to the people!” declared Hasslan at the time of Krokofant’s début.

They may all sound very different but what all those acts listed above share is a reluctance to compromise. The majority of them play with a powerful and admirable level of intensity, a quality that finds its way into Krokofant’s own music. The trio’s blending of these various influences results in a visceral, highly contemporary instrumental music that references both jazz and rock. Fans of such UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Led Bib and Acoustic Ladyland will surely find much to enjoy in Krokofant’s music and the Norwegian trio have also toured the UK as part of the Match & Fuse movement initially instigated by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, leader of the British quintet WorldService Project.

With just five tracks there’s no fat on “Krokofant III” although the band have added to their instrumental palette with Mathisen now doubling on synthesiser. Energy levels however remained undimmed as evidenced by opener “Tommy Synth” which erupts from a stew of whistling synths, pummelling drums and guitar power chords before the trio lay down a complex guitar driven riff which then mutates into a sax led motif, this leading in turn to a blistering Mathisen solo. As the saxophonist freaks out Hasslan keeps that math/prog rock guitar riff churning as Skalstad flails about him, a whirlwind of kinetic energy. There’s a pause for breath with a more impressionistic central passage that sees Mathisen moving to sinister sounding synth, but Skalstad and Hassan are soon stoking the fires once more and before long it’s the guitarist heading for the outer limits bolstered by Mathisen’s malevolent synth bass lines and Skalstad’s relentless drum barrage. Finally that hooky sax motif returns as the piece finally resolves itself. Despite the intensity of the performances there’s enough of an overall shape to keep the music accessible. Krokofant may push at the boundaries but there’s plenty here to keep adventurous listeners from both the jazz and rock communities happy.

Another Hasslan theme, “Clazz” begins with sax and guitar riffing chunkily in tandem before once again embarking on their own excursions. Hasslan goes first, his playing loud and rock orientated but becoming looser and more adventurous as he continues to wig out. Mathisen’s baleful sax makes him sound like a jazzier version of VDGG’s David Jackson and his staccato blasting is faithfully served by Hasslan’s underpinning riffing and Skalstad’s perpetually unfolding percussive onslaught.

A third Hasslan theme, “Juice”, features more razor sharp ensemble playing allied to characteristically adventurous / wigged out soloing. Krokofant’s playing is a beguiling mix between the tightness and discipline of the complex unison riffs and densely written ensemble passages and the abandonment and intensity of the solos. Mathisen is particularly impressive on this track as he stretches out on searing soprano sax, barely kept in check by Hasslan’s typically intricate underpinning riff and Skalstad’s volcanic drumming. One can see where the comparisons with Crimson and VDGG come from but the mix of guitar and saxophone plus the blend of composition and improvisation allied to the sheer intensity of the performances also reminds me of Predicate, the group led by British multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward, here with his guitarist’s hat on, and also featuring saxophonist Tim Hill, bassist Dominic Lash and drummer Mark Sanders.

“Double Dad” represents Mathisen’s contribution with the pen and the performance features him on both sax and keyboards. I suspect that there may have been a little bit of judicious overdubbing deployed here. It’s the most obviously ‘prog’ piece on the album and includes some memorable riffs. I was variously reminded of VDGG, Crimson, Hawkwind and Django Bates and the added electronics introduce elements of both grandeur and quirkiness to counterbalance the ferocity of Hasslan’s extended guitar work out.

Finally we have Hasslan’s “Wrong Turn” which opens with a ferocious triple headed barrage of riffage as Krokofant coalesce into a seemingly unstoppable force. But with Mathisen again doubling on keyboards there are also more impressionistic moments as the combination of synth and guitar threatens to drag us into deep space. Eventually Hasslan breaks away, sounding like a 21st century Jimi Hendrix, with a particularly excoriating, feedback drenched, solo. The trio rein things back in with some more gargantuan, tightly honed, ensemble riffing which acts as the framework for Mathisen’s own, rather more focussed, saxophone work out. The whole piece has a narrative arc and an epic quality that evokes the trio’s prog rock influences but which is still very much their own.

“Krokofant III” represents an impressive offering from this young trio and their blend of the composed and the improvised, plus the finely judged balance between order and chaos, appeals strongly to my prog rock honed musical tastes. There are a number of their compatriots operating in a similar area and it would be a valid criticism to say that the music is arguably a little too idiomatic – but when it’s an idiom that you like who cares?

The playing is excellent throughout and Skalstad’s work has invited justifiable comparisons with the late, great Tony Williams. But allied to their undoubted musical skills Krokofant also have a youthful energy and irreverence, a punk like attitude if you will, that gives their music bite, vitality and relevance.

On this evidence I now deeply regret missing the band when they briefly toured in the UK last year. Let’s hope that they’ll be returning to these shores at some point in the near future.     

 

     

Krokofant III

Krokofant

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

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Allied to their undoubted musical skills Krokofant also have a youthful energy and irreverence that gives their music bite, vitality and relevance.

Krokofant

“Krokofant III”

Rune Grammofon RCD 2189)

I recall being impressed with the playing of the young Norwegian drummer Axel Skalstad at the annual “Trondheim Jazz Exchange” event at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. A graduate of the acclaimed jazz course at Trondheim Conservatoire Skalstad is still only twenty three and is a founder member of the jazz power trio Krokofant who released their eponymous début album on Rune Grammofon in that same year of 2014.

The band began as a duo when Skalstad teamed up with guitarist Tom Hasslan in the Norwegian town of Kongsberg. The pair developed a strong bond playing freely improvised music together and in 2012 saxophonist Jorgen Mathisen was added to the line-up, a more experienced musician who had already gained a favourable reputation for his work with such well known Norwegian groups as The Core and Zanussi Five.

Almost as important to Krokofant’s development has been studio owner and recording engineer Christian Engfelt who has recorded all three of Krokofant’s albums at his Oslo studio. The three recordings all feature a ‘live in the studio’ approach with the band playing together in real time. 

For “Krokofant III” (the band obviously take the same logical and pragmatic approach to album titling as compatriots and label mates Supersilent) the trio improvise around compositional themes brought in by Hasslan or Mathisen. Their music is a blend of jazz improvisation, math rock and old school style prog rock, all played with something of a contemporary jam band mentality. Norway boasts a particularly impressive scene for this type of music with bands such as elephant9 and Reflections In Cosmo, both of which feature Supersilent organist Stale Storlokken, also mining similar seams. 

As regards influences Krokofant have cited classic 70s jazz rock by artists such as John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Norway’s own Terje Rypdal. There’s also the free-wheeling ferocity of hard core improvisers such as Peter Brotzmann and John Zorn and, perhaps crucially, the instrumental output of those still justly revered prog rock pioneers King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. “It’s our mission to bring more prog to the people!” declared Hasslan at the time of Krokofant’s début.

They may all sound very different but what all those acts listed above share is a reluctance to compromise. The majority of them play with a powerful and admirable level of intensity, a quality that finds its way into Krokofant’s own music. The trio’s blending of these various influences results in a visceral, highly contemporary instrumental music that references both jazz and rock. Fans of such UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Led Bib and Acoustic Ladyland will surely find much to enjoy in Krokofant’s music and the Norwegian trio have also toured the UK as part of the Match & Fuse movement initially instigated by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, leader of the British quintet WorldService Project.

With just five tracks there’s no fat on “Krokofant III” although the band have added to their instrumental palette with Mathisen now doubling on synthesiser. Energy levels however remained undimmed as evidenced by opener “Tommy Synth” which erupts from a stew of whistling synths, pummelling drums and guitar power chords before the trio lay down a complex guitar driven riff which then mutates into a sax led motif, this leading in turn to a blistering Mathisen solo. As the saxophonist freaks out Hasslan keeps that math/prog rock guitar riff churning as Skalstad flails about him, a whirlwind of kinetic energy. There’s a pause for breath with a more impressionistic central passage that sees Mathisen moving to sinister sounding synth, but Skalstad and Hassan are soon stoking the fires once more and before long it’s the guitarist heading for the outer limits bolstered by Mathisen’s malevolent synth bass lines and Skalstad’s relentless drum barrage. Finally that hooky sax motif returns as the piece finally resolves itself. Despite the intensity of the performances there’s enough of an overall shape to keep the music accessible. Krokofant may push at the boundaries but there’s plenty here to keep adventurous listeners from both the jazz and rock communities happy.

Another Hasslan theme, “Clazz” begins with sax and guitar riffing chunkily in tandem before once again embarking on their own excursions. Hasslan goes first, his playing loud and rock orientated but becoming looser and more adventurous as he continues to wig out. Mathisen’s baleful sax makes him sound like a jazzier version of VDGG’s David Jackson and his staccato blasting is faithfully served by Hasslan’s underpinning riffing and Skalstad’s perpetually unfolding percussive onslaught.

A third Hasslan theme, “Juice”, features more razor sharp ensemble playing allied to characteristically adventurous / wigged out soloing. Krokofant’s playing is a beguiling mix between the tightness and discipline of the complex unison riffs and densely written ensemble passages and the abandonment and intensity of the solos. Mathisen is particularly impressive on this track as he stretches out on searing soprano sax, barely kept in check by Hasslan’s typically intricate underpinning riff and Skalstad’s volcanic drumming. One can see where the comparisons with Crimson and VDGG come from but the mix of guitar and saxophone plus the blend of composition and improvisation allied to the sheer intensity of the performances also reminds me of Predicate, the group led by British multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward, here with his guitarist’s hat on, and also featuring saxophonist Tim Hill, bassist Dominic Lash and drummer Mark Sanders.

“Double Dad” represents Mathisen’s contribution with the pen and the performance features him on both sax and keyboards. I suspect that there may have been a little bit of judicious overdubbing deployed here. It’s the most obviously ‘prog’ piece on the album and includes some memorable riffs. I was variously reminded of VDGG, Crimson, Hawkwind and Django Bates and the added electronics introduce elements of both grandeur and quirkiness to counterbalance the ferocity of Hasslan’s extended guitar work out.

Finally we have Hasslan’s “Wrong Turn” which opens with a ferocious triple headed barrage of riffage as Krokofant coalesce into a seemingly unstoppable force. But with Mathisen again doubling on keyboards there are also more impressionistic moments as the combination of synth and guitar threatens to drag us into deep space. Eventually Hasslan breaks away, sounding like a 21st century Jimi Hendrix, with a particularly excoriating, feedback drenched, solo. The trio rein things back in with some more gargantuan, tightly honed, ensemble riffing which acts as the framework for Mathisen’s own, rather more focussed, saxophone work out. The whole piece has a narrative arc and an epic quality that evokes the trio’s prog rock influences but which is still very much their own.

“Krokofant III” represents an impressive offering from this young trio and their blend of the composed and the improvised, plus the finely judged balance between order and chaos, appeals strongly to my prog rock honed musical tastes. There are a number of their compatriots operating in a similar area and it would be a valid criticism to say that the music is arguably a little too idiomatic – but when it’s an idiom that you like who cares?

The playing is excellent throughout and Skalstad’s work has invited justifiable comparisons with the late, great Tony Williams. But allied to their undoubted musical skills Krokofant also have a youthful energy and irreverence, a punk like attitude if you will, that gives their music bite, vitality and relevance.

On this evidence I now deeply regret missing the band when they briefly toured in the UK last year. Let’s hope that they’ll be returning to these shores at some point in the near future.     

 

     


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