I discovered Karin Krog in the mid-80s on a John Surman album, released by the divinely eclectic, sometimes idiosyncratic ECM record label—and inflicted it upon all my friends without mercy. Some got it, some didn’t but fortunately, most chalked it up to “just Rob” and left me to it. A couple weeks ago, I was killing time in Portland’s Mississippi district at Beacon Sound and…ran across a Karin Krog album. Light in the Attic Records has issued a glorious double LP collection of Krog’s work, as a primer for American listeners before they reissue other albums in her catalog. With the exception of some collaborations with other artists, she’s never released an American record. I’d stumbled onto a big deal, mere weeks after its release.
This was going to require a good bit of digging—through the cases of wine in the Harry Potter closet—for just the right wine. I settled on a 2010 Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir by Carabella. Settled isn’t exactly the right word, since I had it in my mind that this would be the wine by the time I got home with the record. But it’s always fun to rummage through the cellar and view the treasures, confirming my decision. (OK, and I had to find it.) Opening it was truth and beauty… after awhile. It was shy at first but by the end of the first side, the wine was singing right along with Ms. Krog, hitting all the right briary, cedary notes from the 2010 vintage.
Archival photo by Sandra Boedecker
As the cherry and raspberry notes started unfolding (into Side 2—the wine was pretty tight at first), the music got weirder, which was fine with me. Karin Krog isn’t just a singer. She’s an experimental musician who uses a microphone and effects to augment her voice. The album’s called Don’t Just Sing for a reason besides just a title track—but which could easily be overdone. Fortunately, she knows how much is enough and after scaring the audience a little bit, she breaks into something more melodic. Balance is key, and timing is everything. I had it cranked up when the song “Images in Glass” came on. The pristinely recorded breaking glass—really loud breaking glass—had Jai running out the door looking for vandals in the courtyard.
To her credit (at least in my mind), Ms. Krog doesn’t scat much at all and even at its most venturesome, this is still an album of songs. Like the 2010 Carabella, the obvious was tempered with subtlety and finesse. By Side 3 the wine had opened up fully to it’s cherry, raspberry, spicy splendor and the album was showing everything I’d hoped for after reading the liner notes. The musician lineup reads like a Who’s Who in European Jazz: Jan Garbarek, Jon Christensen, Arild Andersen, and, of course, her husband John Surman. From America, there were Steve Swallow, Steve Kuhn and Dexter Gordon. It’s all but incomprehensible that with the exception of her ECM appearances, this music hasn’t been available in America. The most accessible song is a seriously hip version of “Ode to Billy Joe,” with Dexter Gordon. A peek at the liner notes reveals was shelved for thirty years, added as a bonus track to a CD reissue that was only released in Europe. There’s something criminal about that.
But now she’s here. Light in the Attic has done a wonderful thing with this album. Don’t Just Sing is beautiful, from the packaging to the remastering and 180 gram pressing. It goes without saying that this album isn’t for everybody, but the same might be said of any record or any wine in my collections. Don’t Just Sing is for the real jazz lover what Carabella is for a real wine lover: much, much more lies just beneath the surface and one must take some time to know that. If you’re really lucky, you might get to try them both together.