A new compilation of one of the world’s best experimental vocalists – but is there enough electronica?
Something of a hero in Scandinavia, Norway’s Karin Krog remains criminally under-appreciated elsewhere. As evidenced on the new Light In The Attic compilation ‘Don’t Just Sing: An Anthology 1963-1999’, Krog was (and indeed remains) a versatile performer. Her voice was the perfect complement to esteemed collaborators like Dexter Gordon, Jan Garbarek, Bill Evans and Archie Shepp, always delivering a commanding and captivating presence as a leader but never allowing that to dominate over the various players she had assembled.
During a career that started in the early 1960s, Krog also delivered some calculated and ambitious forays into a little explored frontier territory between jazz and musique concrète alongside traditional vocal jazz. These experiments were best showcased on the album ‘Different Days, Different Ways’, which featured tracks from 1972 to 1974. While it partly offered obligatory earthy jazz standards, things rapidly moved off in a wholly other direction with an aria to John Cage’s landmark tape work ‘Fontana Mix’, on which Krog’s naked voice was sliced up and layered on top of itself over and over. The result was something between a William Burroughs record and an oblique Yoko Ono Fluxus exhibit.
The more extreme ideas of ‘Different Days, Different Ways’ are sadly omitted from this compilation, but a hint of the inventiveness can be found on the layered, cut-up vocals of the brief ‘As A Wife Has A Cow’ and ‘Glissando’, which sees traditional jazz tropes subjected to savage studio treatment. The previously unreleased ‘Images In Glass’ also has an ambitious and amorphous breadth, taking in haiku-like utterances, ethereal electronic textures and recordings of shattering panes. By its conclusion, it sounds like something Can’s Irmin Schmidt could have delivered for a long-buried German film score.
Another of the highlights here is ‘Just Holding On’ from Krog’s 1986 album ‘Freestyle’, recorded with her husband and frequent collaborator, the saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist John Surman. It was an almost entirely electronic record, relying on synth brass sounds and ambient textures instead of sonic trickery and manipulation. Much tamer, certainly, and often somewhat twee, the better moments on ‘Freestyle’ bore similarities to AC Marias’ ‘One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)’ from the same era.
Like many surveys of artists who have embraced eclecticism in their careers, ‘Don’t Just Sing’ feels a little uneven. It would have been better to have split this into two distinct discs, one focused on Krog’s core vocal jazz tracks and the other dealing with the more adventurous side of her output. As it stands, it leaves those looking for her extreme experiments vaguely thwarted, while anyone interested in her traditional work will most likely wind up skipping the weird stuff.