What do you get if you cross a crocodile with an elephant? A Krokofant. For those not familiar with this surreal hybrid, then you’ve never heard the popular Norwegian children’s song. The Krokofant has been described as “a lumbering trumpeting beast with a fearsome array of teeth in its snapping jaws.” However, Krokofant is also the name of Norwegian jazz’s most exciting and pioneering groups. Their debut album Krokofant will be released on Rune Grammofon on 10th March 2014. Before I tell you about Krokofant, I’ll tell you about the story behind one of Norway hottest musical prospects.

Originally, Krofofant were just a duo, consisting of guitarist Tom Hasslan  and drummer Axel Skalstad. Then in 2012, Tom and Alex met saxophonist Jørgen Mathisen, in a guitar shop in Kongsberg, a town in Southern Norway which is famous for its annual jazz festival. Straight away, Tom, Alex and Jørgen hit it off. Straight away, Tom, Alex and Jørgen hit it off. 

When Tom, Alex and Jørgen began playing together, it quickly became apparent that Jorgen was the missing piece in the musical jigsaw. No wonder. Jorgen was already an experienced musician. He’d already played in groups like Shagma, The Core and Zanussi Five. Soon, the new lineup of Krokofant became part of an innovative musical movement that’s sweeping the Nordic region. 

So much so, that Krokofant epitomise this new innovative and exciting musical movement. Part of Krokofant’s music is improvisational. They fuse improvisation with rock beats and driving rhythms. Essentially, it’s a marriage of free jazz, jazz rock and prog rock. That’s how anyone whose been lucky enough to hear Krokofant live will describe their music,

If you can imagine music that marries the Joycean prog rock of odysseys of King Crimson and Henry Cow with the free jazz of Peter Brötzmann’s ensembles and the jazz rock of early seventies pioneers like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Terje Rypdal, Ray Russell. This describes Krokofant live. A fusion of raw but refined power, discipline, energy and enthusiasm. Seamlessly, free jazz, jazz rock and prog rock becomes one. Having honed their sound by playing live, the next step for Krokofant was to record their debut album, which became Krokofant.

For the recording of Krokofant, the band headed to Engfelt and Forsgren Studio in Oslo. Alex and Tom decided that now was the time to ask Jørgen to join the band. They did, and he agreed to become a full member of Krokofant. This was the final piece in the jigsaw. As for Engfelt and Forsgren Studio, this was the perfect place to record Krokofant. It was an analogue studio. The vintage equipment would be perfect to capture Krokofant’s old school sound. After all, many of Krokofant’s influences, including free jazz, jazz rock and prog rock were recorded in similar studios. That proved to be the case. When Krokofant recorded the six songs that the band cowrote, band came to life. Looking back, Krokofant realise that’s when Krokofant came of age. That’s apparent on Krokofant, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening Krokofant is Polyfant, which meanders into being. It has a futuristic, sci-fi sound. That’s until Krokofant kick loose. A driving, thunderous rhythm section  joins stabs of blazing, grizzled horns. Then sneering guitars are unleashed. They’re fired across the arrangement. The guitar and saxophone go toe to toe. It’s a case of instruments being pushed to their limits. Especially, the saxophone.  Sometimes, it’s as if the saxophone has nowhere to go. However, Jørgen digs deep, spraying and unleashing more searing free jazz licks. They’re the perfect accompaniment to the driving, strutting, rocky rhythm section, as free jazz and classic rock prove a potent partnership that showcases Krokofant at their inventive best.

Supermann is aptly name, given Alex’s guitar playing. His playing is quick, fluid and precise. At breakneck speed, his fingers flit up and down the fretboard. This takes real concentration and discipline, as he unleashes some glorious riffs. Tom feeds off him. He plays with power and precision. He’s round the kit, matching Alex for speed and precision. Sometimes, he reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Then when Jørgen steps up, he too kicks loose. A scatted, scratchy, punchy, rasping saxophone flits above the thunderous rhythm section. By then, Krokofant become one. They’re a power trio par excellent. With a seventies influenced sound Krokafant are a musical powerhouse. Every one of them is a Supermann.

Scorching describes the introduction to Bodega. From the get-go, Alex and Tom seem determined to carry the baton for real rock music. Blistering, driving, machine gun guitars are sprayed by Alex. Meanwhile, Tom gives a masterclass in drumming, playing with, power, passion and precision. It’s a rhythmic tour de force. He seems to be paying tribute to the legendary drummers of the seventies. This he does with aplomb. Then there Jørgen. He won’t be outdone. Like a gunslinger, he stands up and lets loose, his saxophone growling and braying. Not to be outdone, Krokofant’s rhythm section play with real ferocity and fluidity. The result is a near nine-minute epic where rock, free and jazz and even funk play their part in this Magnus Opus.

Dark and dramatic describes Thispair. Krokofant play slowly and deliberately. Searing, scorching guitars and grizzled saxophones compete for your attention. Drums provide the heartbeat to this dramatic prog rock opus. Literally, the track oozes drama and atmosphere. This is helped by the slower tempo. As the guitar and saxophone lumber along, the track takes on a  cinematic sound. Pictures unfold before your eyes. Scenarios and scenes flit in and out of your mind’s eye. By the end of the track, you realise Thespian would be the perfect soundtrack to a 21st century gothic horror film. 

Ejs is three minutes of mesmeric music. Krokofant are back to a duo. That doesn’t hamper them. What follows is a blistering track that showcases Alex’s guitar playing. There aren’t many guitarists that can play with the speed and precision he can. The guitar comes to life in his hands. His hands are up and down the fretboard at breakneck speed. Despite this, he plays freely and fluidly. Rock and jazz unite. Mostly, his reference point is rock. However, there’s a jazz rock influence too. Matching Alex every step of the way is Tom’s drums. It becomes like a musical duel, two master musicians going head to head. In the end, Alex’s guitar playing wins the day and plays a crucial part in one of the best instrumental rock tracks I’ve heard in many a year.

Castaway, a thirteen minute epic closes Krokofant. There’s a change in direction, with a jazz-tinged, ballad unfolding. The tempo drops and the arrangement is understated and spacious. That’s until Jørgen’s sultry saxophone makes its entrance. It takes centre-stage and plays crucial role in the track. Behind Jørgen, Tom plays his drums with subtlety while Alex’s guitar is mellow and jazzy. It’s the saxophone that’s furthest forward in the mix. That’s until Krokofant through a curveball. The track takes on an experimental, minimalist sound, as it meanders along. Pensive, mysterious, futuristic, otherworldly and hypnotic describes this track. Later, so does beautiful, ethereal, innovative and ambitious. Especially when Jørgen’s grizzled saxophone takes the track in the direction of free jazz. His playing is akin to a cathartic baring of the soul. The rest of Krokofant play their part in this sprawling musical odyssey, as they showcase their talent and versatility, whilst closing Krokofant on a high.

As debut albums go, Krokofant is one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. There’s several reasons for this. The first is that Krokofant are determined to innovate musically. This is a potent and heady brew.  Krokofant combine everything from avant-garde, classic rock, experimental, free jazz, funk, jazz rock and prog rock. Much of Krookofant is essentially, a  combination of a rock-influenced rhythm section and Jorgen’s free jazz saxophone. However, there’s also detours via  avant-garde and experimental music on Castaway, funk on Brogeda and gothic prog rock on Thispair. When all was combined by Krokofant the result was a glorious fusion of musical genres and influences.

Interestingly, many of these musical genres were at the peak of their popularity during the seventies. Listening to Krokofant, it’s an album that’s definitely been influenced by the music of the seventies.  One of the most obvious influences was the classic rock of the seventies. Krokofant sound as if they’d been influenced by groups like Led Zeppelin. Especially when you listen to Tom’s guitar playing and Alex’s drumming.

They’re two hugely talented musicians. The best way to describe them are virtuosoes. They could hold their own with some of the best musicians of the past. This takes years and years of practise and dedication. Not many people are as dedicated as that. However, the three members of Krokofant are. Classic rock wasn’t the only influence on Krokofant.

Among the other influences are prog rock. Think of glorious, sprawling Joycean odysseys of King Crimson, Soft Machine, Camel and Henry Cow. What about Peter Brötzmann’s free jazz ensembles? Then there’s the jazz rock of early seventies pioneers like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Terje Rypdal, Ray Russell. All these artists and more influenced Krokofant’s debut album Krokofant which will be released on Rune Grammofon on 10th March 2014. This marks the debut of one of the most exciting groups not just in Norway, but Europe, Krokofant who you’re sure to hear much more of. 

No wonder. Krokofant create music that’s not just bold and brave, but inventive, innovative and influential. That’s why Krokofant are leaders of this new and innovative musical movement that’s sweeping the Nordic region. Word is spreading about this trio of musical pioneers. There’s a reason for this. Their music. Krokofant are determined to push musical boundaries. They’re constantly seeking to reinvent themselves and their music. That’s why Krokofant’s music can be described as variously dramatic, challenging, futuristic, moody, cinematic, understated and pensive. Every song is different and full of subtleties and nuances.

Seamlessly, Krokofant change direction, and your hear another side to their music. They play with raw but refined power, discipline, energy and enthusiasm. Then musical influences and genres melt into one thanks to one of the most talented and groundbreaking Norwegian bands, Krokofant. They come of age on Krokofant, which showcases one of the most exciting, innovative and talented groups I’ve heard in a long time.


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on nycjazzimprov.

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