CD REVIEW: Karin Krog - The Many Faces of Karin Krog: Recordings 1967-2017



Karin Krog – The Many Faces of Karin Krog : Recordings 1967-2017 
(Meantime Records ODINCD 9560. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This six-CD box set, released to celebrate the 80th birthday of Norwegian jazz singer Karin Krog is intriguing. It is not a straightforward chronological retrospective, nor a greatest hits collection – she has released anthologies of her work before now, most recently in 2015’s Don’t Just Sing. For this new collection she  has selected favourite recordings from the last 60 years – to the Krog connoisseur this will be an fascinating compilation, as it contains rarities and previously unreleased tracks. For the newcomer it provides evidence of the incredible variety within Krog’s work in the last 60 or so years of her jazz career.

Each disc in the set illustrates a different category:
- The Art of Duo
- Singing the Blues 
- With the Big Bands
- New Paths
- All Sorts
-  From the Songbook.

The pieces, ranging from big band works to intimate duos, and from jazz standards to the avant-garde and the fringes of “new music”, show what a versatile performer she is, whether experimenting with electronic looping, or singing a classic love song with her trademark suavity and precision.

It also demonstrates the staggering array of jazz stars with whom she has collaborated. There are the expected Scandinavian greats like Niels-Henning Ørsted Pederson, Arild Anderson, Bengt Hallberg and Palle Mikkelborg. Then there are the North Americans, including Dexter Gordon,  Clark Terry, Archie Shepp, Red Mitchell, John Warren, Don Ellis (who enticed Krog to Los Angeles in the early '60s to make some recordings,) Dave Frishberg and Steve Kuhn. Finally there are the English musicians including Georgie Fame, and her partner in life and music, John Surman.

I was not familiar with the breadth of Krog’s work and have only heard her live a couple of times, most memorably in an extraordinary concert in 1987 of contemporary music compositions by Surman for jazz trio and choir, performed by Krog, Surman, the wonderful John Taylor and an excellent girls' choir. As a result, I was less surprised to find her recording here of John Cage’s 1958 Aria written for Cathy Berberian, and more surprised by the quantity of great straight-ahead swinging tunes with various big bands.

The accompanying booklet is excellent, and contains some nice photos, but I would have appreciated a bit more information, particularly dates for each track – unaccountably absent – I  needed to consult her discography to discover where and when a recording was made. I often could not guess, as Krog’s voice seems unchanged over the years. Some of the avant-garde tracks are surprisingly early works, and some of the more straightforward big band recordings are very recent indeed.

Standout tracks for me include The Sun and the Water from her own Oslo Calling of 2008,  Dig It (sharing the vocals with Georgie Fame) from a Per Husby Orchestra album If You Could Hear Me Now of 1996, and Just in Time, a duet with Red Mitchell from But Three’s a Crowd of 1977.

Throughout, Krog’s vocals are precise, with an almost Blossom Dearie-like lightness, which makes her singing, even when she is doing complicated things with the melody and harmony, seem effortless. As Krog herself says: “But I still have to carry the tune and, even if you are improvising, you also have to carry the lyrics.”

This is a fascinating collection which, with luck, may introduce this great singer to the wider audience she unquestionably deserves.

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