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Krokofant II Joe Banks , January 11th, 2016 09:14

If, like me, you're essentially a rock fan who likes the idea of jazz, but don't want to commit to it fully this side of retirement, then Krokofant are most definitely a band for you. A young instrumental power trio consisting of Jørgen Mathisen (saxophone), Tom Hasslan (guitar) and Axel Skalstad (drums), they're the latest in a long line of Norwegian groups – all lovingly nurtured by the Rune Grammofon label – who brazenly mix jazz chops with rock dynamics: see also Elephant9, Fire! Orchestra, Bushman's Revenge, and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio.

Whereas the term 'jazz rock' tends to conjure images of rolled sleeve jackets, slip-on shoes and ponytails, and all too often acts as a signifier for tasteful/aimless noodling, the modern Norwegian scene has reclaimed the term for a type of music that's fierce and exploratory, combining the attack of one genre with the adventurousness of the other. Players such as Peter Brötzmann and John Zorn may have blazed a similar trail in the past, but Krokofant bolster their improvisations with memorable riffs and melodies, making them more approachable for the average heavy prog fan.

Ah, did I mention prog? Because the elephant (Krokofant?) in the room here is the original jazz/prog/improv behemoth, King Crimson. While these guys are clearly all fantastic players and very much their own band, Krokofant II often feels like a heady synthesis of primetime KC – specifically the propulsive brass of In The Court Of The Crimson King and the apocalyptic grind of Red – and as such, delivers an almighty slap around the head.

'C.O.T.A' immediately piles in with a stomping sax line underpinned by a skewed but pumping rhythm. The vibe is frantic yet controlled, like a funk fanfare forced to jump through a series of angular hoops. The main riff is taken up by the guitar as Mathisen solos in another direction altogether, which creates a curious bifurcational pull on the attention. Then it's Hasslan's turn to break out in a deconstructed blues metal style, backed by Skalstad's big, busy drumming. They all come together again for a coda that's reminiscent of a Crimson-esque lurching death march.

'Sail Ahead' starts with sax and guitar mapping out another twisting riff in unison, then drops down to a churning subterranean guitar line over which Mathisen solos more pensively this time, gradually building up to a spiralling baroque theme. 'Nieu' contrasts atonal sax scree against more tech metal vamping from Hasslan, before a circular groove leads into a run of crunching, subtly sinister riffs. Both songs are like action painting with sound – concentrated listening is rewarded, but the crackle and heat generated by the process is thrilling in itself.

By 'The Ship', Krokofant are starting to sound positively raunchy, the opening like a dirty come-on to the listener, the rough and tumble of the playing sinuous and fluid, the massed ranks of Skalstad's drums urging his bandmates to ever greater shredding. 'Snakedog' is based around a vicious switchback riff that isn't as straight as it seems, but guarantees an outbreak of furious head-nodding, all coiled canine ferocity as its title suggests. Finally, 'Watchtower' starts like a take on '21st Century Schizoid Man', breaks into a looser guitar excursion, then builds to an excitingly sudden climax.

A Krokofant is a big beast with lots of teeth, and this album is a total blast from start to finish.