Karin Krog + the Meaning of Norwegian Jazz
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the far-out sounds of yesteryear finally sound perfectly apace with the zeitgeist of present year.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Oslo is great…
For lovers of Henrik Ibsen, seafood or Edvard Munch.
But unless you’re the most cosmopolitan badass ever, jazz is really probably the last thing you’re going to find yourself thinking of when Norway comes up in conversation.
And yet … like in Japan and Germany, jazz has led many healthy lifetimes there, far more than it has in the country where it was invented. Perhaps because you have to be a little bit further away from the source to appreciate just how hugely cool something is.
And in 1955, 18-year-old jazz vocalist Karin Krog did just that. The Oslo native jumped onboard pianist Kjell Oddvar Karlsen’s sextet for a career that still continues today. And maybe even for a bunch of tomorrows, since “indefatigable” is entirely apt when describing Krog.
With over 35 recordings, the most recent being 2013’s Songs About This and That, Krog has been stacking up awards along with the enduring love of fans in signature songs like “Meaning of Love” and her version of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” You try doing that at 77.
Krog’s croon can soothe its way through a standard like nobody’s business.
“When we decided to do her compilation,” said Toni Schifer, the label head at Crippled whose Raindrops, Raindrops best-of release covered Krog from 1966 to 1985, “we were attracted to what can only be described as the ‘otherworldly’ quality of her voice.” A thought which directly addressed some of Krog’s more far-out compositions, like “Karima Two” with its crazy sitars and Krog’s ethereal take on what feels like some Esquivel music-of-the-spheres vibe, fully earning the sobriquet “avant-jazz.”
So from here to stateside acclaim, working with Dexter Gordon and Archie Shepp, and appearing as the first artist from Norway on noted jazz label Verve’s 1994 release Jubilee, Krog is really — almost indisputably — the shit. For all the right reasons. The music is sometimes challenging, in the great free-jazz tradition, but through it all, Krog’s croon can soothe its way through a standard like nobody’s business.
“What I think is noteworthy above all else,” Schifer concludes from his place in Berlin, “is that after all of this time, there are still not a lot of voices like hers out there.”