Norway is home to a number of bands that explore the connections between free jazz and hard, progressive, and avant rock. Shining, Elephant9, Bushman's Revenge, and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio are four of the best examples, yet each has its own sonic approach to composition, rhythm, and improvisation. What's more, all record for Rune Grammofon. Krokofant is the name of the Norse power trio made up of guitarist Tom Hasslan, drummer Axel Skalstad, and saxophonist Jørgen Mathisen. As evidenced here, their sound is deeply influenced by the forceful jazz-rock of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and the early-'70s albums of guitarist Ray Russell, the angular precision of Larks' Tongues through Red-era King Crimson, the vanguard rock explorations of Henry Cow, and the free jazz skronk of Last Exit. But Krokofant add another element too: an unabashed love for prog metal. On album opener "Polyfant," one can hear the physical, mathy attack of Meshuggah. Muscular guitar riffing gives way to a head-to-head guitar/sax duel; each player pays heed to the forceful shifts in time and dynamic introduced by Skalstad. The razored twists and turns in the intro to "Bodega" give way to a nearly funky approach as Hasslan's riffs and the double-timed drum attack allow for an extended, imaginative solo by Mathisen and a focused guitar break that weaves jazz chords, arpeggios, and finally six-string metallic histrionics amid furious rhythmic syncopation. In "Thispair," Mathisen's tenor sax initially offers a dolorous yet lyric melody framed by Hasslan's slow contrapuntal accompaniment, illustrated and developed by Skalstad. The saxophonist and drummer move into free terrain rather quickly, pushing against the margins of the guitarist's consistent countermelody, creating nearly cinematic drama. The 13-minute closer, "Castaway," commences as an atmospheric jazz exercise with crystalline guitar, shimmering cymbal flecks, and wafting low-register tenor lines that reflect post-Coltrane modalism. It floats along, with some breezy turns and shapes, until hard surfaces are reintroduced and the piece gets freer, more focused on what lies inside the improvisational dialogue. It's a stirring finish. Krokofant's riveting debut offers an exciting aural portrait of a band that already plays like a much more experienced ensemble.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek