One of the most overused words in music journalism is innovative. That’s been the case throughout the last forty years. Everything from punk to hip hop and house music has been described as innovative. Go back further, and the music that Motown was making was described by many as innovative. That couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Instead, the music the Motown factory made was formulaic. Teams of writers, producers and musicians churned out formulaic songs. They came rolling off the Motown assembly line. Its approach to music proved successful. Soon, other musical factories were setup.

One of the highest profile, was Philadelphia International Records. It was one the most successful soul factories of the seventies. Later, in the seventies, disco labels including Salsoul and S.A.M. Records followed the factory approach to music. For a few years, both labels enjoyed a degree of success. Since then, musical factories have come and gone. However, one thing stays the same, still overenthusiastic journalists have have continued to misuse the word innovative.

Ironically, still, music that’s genuinely innovative is being overlooked by music journalists. That includes the music of Karin Krog’s the veteran Norwegian jazz singer. She is a true innovator, who has pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. Despite this, Karin Krog is almost unknown outside of Norway. That’s despite being a prolific recording career that began in 1963. 

Part of Karin Krog’s recording career is celebrated on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999, which was recently released by Light In The Attic Records. Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999 features sixteen tracks, and includes collaboration Steve Kuhn, Dexter Gordon and John Surman. These are just three of the artists that have worked with Karin Krog during her long and illustrious recording career. It began in 1963, when when Karin Krog was twenty-six.

Karin Krog was born in Oslo, Norway, on 15th May 1937. She first started singing as a teenager, and in 1955, when she was eighteen joined Kjell Karlsen’s sextet. This was the start of Karin Krog’s sixty year career.

Seven years later, in 1962, Karin Krog had formed her first band. The same year, Norwegian-American singer Anne Brown took Karin under her wing. Anne taught Karin right through until 1969. During this seven year period, Karin sung everything from jazz, right though to R&B. This included a spell with the R&B band Public Enemies, who in the mid-sixties, enjoyed hits with Sunny and Watermelon Man. By then, Karin Krog had made her recording debut as a solo artist.

This came in 1963, when Karin contributed two tracks to the Metropol Jazz album. The same year, Karin recorded Tystnaden, a track from Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. It was never released, but shows Karin Krog as her career was about to unfold.

Just a year later, in 1964, when Karin Krog was twenty-seven, she signed to Philips Records. Later that year, she released her debut album, By Myself. It was released to critical acclaim. Karin Krog, the critics forecast had a great future ahead of her.

A year later, in 1965, Karin won the first award of her career. It was a prestigious one at that. A Buddyprisen is awarded by the Norwegian Jazz Forum to the Norwegian jazz musician that has “been an excellent performer and significantly involved in Norwegian jazz by other means.” For an artist who had just received their debut album, this was a huge honour. However, it wouldn’t be the last award Karin Krog would win.

Two years after the release of By Myself, Karin released her sophomore album Jazz Moments. It was another album of standards. However, they were given a twist by Karin Krog. Jazz Moments was well received by critics. The album struck a nerve within the jazz community. Karin Krog was perceived by critics, record buyer and her fellow musicians as one of music’s rising stars. 

Another two years passed before Karin released her third album, Joy. Karin was still under the tutelage of Anne Brown. Her influence was rubbing off on Karin, who was maturing as a singer. That’s apparent on Karin’s vampish, free jazz inspired take on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. However, the highlight of Joy was the enchanting Lazy Afternoon. Karin had come a long way since the had released her debut album. Critics remarked upon this, and in 1969, Karin’s progress was recognised.

In 1970, Karin Krog made her way to Berlin, where she won one of Down Beat Poll Winners. Karin had won the Norwegian Poll. This resulted in her version of vampish, free jazz inspired take on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. It featured on the album, Open Space (The Down Beat Poll Winners In Europe) and on  Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. Open Space (The Down Beat Poll Winners In Europe) was released in 1969, and should’ve helped spread the word about Karin’s music. However, still she remained almost unknown outside her native Norway. Maybe her fortune would change as the sixties gave way the seventies?

This seemed to be the case. In 1970 Karin recorded what was her first high profile collaboration. This was Some Other Spring, Blues And Ballads, which Karin Krog and Dexter Gordon recorded in Oslo on May 10th 1970 in Oslo. Two of the tracks recorded were the sultry sounding Blue Eyes, and a cover Ode To Billy Joe. They both feature on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999.

However, when Some Other Spring, Blues And Ballads was released later in 1970, only Blue Eyes featured. It had previously been the B-Side of the single, Break Of Day In Molde, which was earlier in 1970, and also features on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. When Some Other Spring, Blues And Ballads was released, it was to critical acclaim. The album was hailed as a captivating collaboration between one of jazz’s veterans, and one its rising stars. This was reflected in the awards Karin won.

Not only did Karin win an award at the European Poll Winners awards in Osaka, but Some Other Spring, Blues And Ballads was voted Japan’s record of the year in 1970. Karin picked up her award in 1971. Given the success of Some Other Spring, Blues And Ballads, many critics thought that Karin would return to the studio straight away. That wasn’t the case.

It would be another three years before Karin released another studio album. Live At The Festival came out in 1973. Then in 1974, Karin released three albums. 

This included You Must Believe In Spring (Songs By Michel Legrand). The album featured what was an all-star lineup of Norwegian jazz musicians. They played their part in what many critics felt was Karin’s best album. However, they would soon be forced to rethink this.

You Must Believe In Spring (Songs By Michel Legrand) wasn’t the only album Karin released in 1974. She also released Gershwin With Karin Krog. It saw Karin breath new life and meaning into the Gershwin songbook. While Karin wasn’t the first to give the Gershwin songbook a makeover, it was perceived musically, as a breath of fresh air. Good as Gershwin With Karin Krog was, Karin Krog’s career defining album was the other album she released in 1974.

That was We Could Be Flying, a collaboration with Steve Kuhn. We Could Be Flying also featured Steve Swallow and Jon Christensen. They were responsible for what was the most ambitious, and groundbreaking album of Karin Krog’s career. That’s apparent when one listens to songs like We Could Be Flying, Raindrops, Raindrops and All I Want. They’re among the highlights of a truly innovative, genre-melting album. Elements of avant garde, free jazz and fusion combine, creating the greatest album of Karin’s twelve year recording career. 

Given the quality of music Karin had been releasing, it was no surprise that awards began to come her way. This included a  Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award.

Then in 1975, Karin won the aware for Female Singer of the Year from the European Jazz Federation. Karin’s star was in the ascendancy. So in 1976, she released another album.

Different Days, Different Ways was released in 1976. However, it was only available in Japan. This meant that many people missed out on of the most groundbreaking songs Karin had recorded. As A Wife Has A Cow was way ahead of the musical curve. This was a marriage of music and technology was recorded in 1970, during downtime in a Eje Thelin session. With an hour to spare, Karin recorded As A Wife Has A Cow and Glissando. These two songs never saw the light of day until 1976, when Different Days, Different Ways was released. This hidden gem of an album was only released in Europe recently. However, European jazz fans were still able to buy a new Karin Krog album in 1976.

Karin released Hi-Fly, a collaboration with American jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp in 1976. Hi-Fly was recorded at Arne Bendiksen Studio, in Vålerengen, Oslo and was well received by critics. Karin it seemed was a popular partner for collaborations.

During 1977, Karin released three albums. They were allcollaborations. As You Are (The Malmö Sessions) was a collaboration with Swedish pianist and composer, Nils Lindberg. The other album was But Three’s A Crowd. It was a collaboration between Karin and American double bassist Red Mitchell, who was living in Sweden. The other album Karin released in 1977, was A Song for You, a collaboration with Bengt Hallberg. These three collaborations enhanced Karin’s reputation. However, in 1979 Karin’s next collaboration changed not just her musical life, but her personal life.

In 1979, Karin Krog and English saxophonist John Surman recorded their first collaboration, Cloud Line Blue. The pair had met three years earlier, in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1976. Three years later, they were recording Cloud Line Blue at Riverside Recordings, London and at Talent Studios, Oslo.  One of its highlights of the sessions was Cloud Line Blue, which also features on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. It’s at the heart of Cloud Line Blue success.

Cloud Line Blue was hailed a captivating and innovative collaboration which is built around electronics. While this was a first for Karin, it wouldn’t be the last time she embraced electronics on an album. Nor would Cloud Line Blue be the last time she and John collaborated. They would collaborate again in 1985 on the album Freestyle.

By then, Karin was a prolific artist. She had released four further studio albums and a live album. Freestyle however, was different. John and Karin played all the instruments at the sessions at Rainbow Studio, Oslo. Among the songs that were recorded, was Just Holding On, a John Surman composition, which also features on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. Its lyrics were brought to life as Freestyle took shape. It was released later in 1985, and just like Cloud Line Blue was well received. However, it would a lot more than six years before  John and Karin collaborated again.

By then, Karin had been just as busy as before. She was still one of the hardest working women in European jazz. Karin had also founded her own record company, Meantime in 1987. Ten years later, Karin and John collaborated on a track Images Of Glass. It was recorded at the Knowle Studio, in Oslo in 1997. Sadly, it wasn’t released and makes its debut on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. The same year, another song from Karin Krog’s vaults made its debut. 

Back in 1980, Karin had covered John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. After the recording session at Gagnef Church in Sweden, the song lay unreleased. Seventeen years later, and Karin was working on her latest album Malice Toward None. She dug out A Love Supreme and decided it was time for it to be heard. A Love Supreme which closes Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999 is one of the highlights of the compilation. It’s an impassioned rendition of this classic track. When Malice Toward None was released in 1997, critics praised the album, especially A Love Supreme. It was one of its highlights. The same can be said of a track from Karin and John Surman’s 1999 album.

Karin and John Surman renewed their acquaintance in 1999, when they collaborated on their album Bluesland. This twelve track album was recorded at Rainbow Studio, in Oslo. One of the highlights of Bluesland was Don’t Just Sing, which lent its title to the compilation Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999. It features an enchanting and impassioned vocal from Karin, who was maturing as a singer. Now sixty-two, she was releasing some of the best music of her career. John Surman was the perfect musical partner for Karin Krog. They seemed to bring out the best in each other, and in 2005, would become life partners.

By then Karin Krog had further reinforced her reputation as one of European jazz’s most prolific artists. Karin Krog had over a hundred albums to her name. This includes studio albums, live albums and collaborations with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Steve Kahn to her life partner John Surman. 

Karin Krog and  John Surman formed a formidable partnership. They were like a musical yin and yang, who complimented each other perfectly. Together, the created music that was ground break and often, ahead of its time. That head been a habit of Karin Krog’s for many years.

Ever since her recording career began in 1963, Karin Krog established a reputation as being one of the most versatile and innovative European jazz singers of her generation. She is just as capable of singing standards, as she is taking her music in the direction of free jazz. Improvisation is key to Karin Krog as her voice becomes an instrument. This is just one side to Sometimes, Karin’s music.

Other times, Karin Krog plays it straight, and delivers enchanting, captivating and beautiful vocals. Her vocal takes on an ethereal and elegiac sound. Then other times, Karin experiments, and with various collaborators, pushes musical boundaries.

This includes incorporating electronics and effects to her music. The first time that Karin did this, was in 1970. The two tracks d As A Wife Has A Cow and Glissando, weren’t released until 1976, on Different Days, Different Ways, which was only released in Japan. These two tracks were further proof that Karin Krog was one of music’s innovators. That’s no exaggeration.

Karin Krog, who is now seventy-eight is a true innovator. During a recording career that’s spanned six decades, Karin Krog has continually pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. That’s apparent on Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999, which was recently released by Light In The Attic Records. Despite being one of music’s true innovators, Karin Krog is almost unknown outside of Norway. That’s despite releasing over one-hundred albums. Sadly, that’s often the case with musical innovators. Often their music is way ahead of its time, and its only much later, that it’s understood and appreciated. Maybe that will be the case with Karin Krog, and the release of Don’t Just Sing-An Anthology-1963-1999 will result in her music being understood and appreciated by a much wider audience.



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