Despite dollops of high energy and outright noise, one imagines that Norwegian avant-prog quartet Panzerpappa -- drummer/percussionist Trond Gjellum, saxophonist/keyboardist Steinar Børve, guitarist Jarle Storløkken, bassist Anders Krabberød -- and their various guest artists didn't break into a sweat while recording the band's 2006 album, Koralrevens Klagesang. Well, perhaps some perspiration on the brow required dabbing with a hand towel after the martial arts-flavored exhortative shout/chanting of "Kantonesisk Kanotur." Yet Panzerpappa make it all sound effortless even when cranking it up, proving that the best avant-prog results from mastery of harmonics, textural complexity, sonic inventiveness, and the all-important compositional arc -- with caterwauling an optional ingredient in the stew. Børve is perhaps the best exemplar of Panzerpappa's refined qualities when he brings out his saxophone; he studiously avoids extended technique -- there are no strident multiphonics or overblowing within earshot -- and adopts a nearly classical timbre throughout Koralrevens Klagesang. One touchstone is British reedman Jimmy Hastings guesting with Caravan and Hatfield and the North during the '60s and '70s; when Hastings stepped out on sax or flute back then, he instantly transformed Canterbury prog into the best jazz-rock, sans histrionics. Hastings is no idle reference point, because Panzerpappa are indeed a throwback to the aforementioned bands, particularly the Hatfields.
But Panzerpappa -- and here's where the "avant" designation is most applicable -- are also clearly influenced by the amiable, melodic side of the Rock in Opposition style: the most accessible moments of Leg End-era Henry Cow (with reedmen Tim Hodgkinson and Geoff Leigh) and the "fun" side of the whole scene as represented by the likes of Samla Mammas Manna and L'Énsemble Rayé. Imagine a Canterbury crew taking side trips into brass band dirge ("Korallrevens Klagesang I"), circusy polka ("Snill Sang På Bånd," complete with accordion, melodica, and even banjo), and ersatz swing ("Snill Sang På Bånd" again, here sounding like Arto Lindsay wandered in to contribute dirty scraping guitar noise). No doubt, listeners attuned to 21st century overwrought emotionalism and/or lo-fi amateurism may find the precise musicianship and immaculate production too much to bear, and occasional passages do seem appropriate for accompanying a Doppler radar display on cable television, although with enough variety to apply the age-old adage "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." Indeed, the 14-plus-minute highlight "Frenetisk Frenologi" incorporates driving seven-beat rock with a satisfying chordal hook, an undisguised Henry Cow homage, underpinnings of pure noise and static, and Storløkken pumping his guitar into a distorted, overdriven hurricane (OK, Panzerpappa aren't polite all the time) before the tune's lovely, understated flute-laden coda. And, making the Caravan/Hatfields connection absolutely clear, none other than Richard Sinclair takes a customarily smooth vocal on "Vintervake," a new variation on Caravan's "Winter Wine" in both title and music that demonstrates Sinclair's seemingly undiminished capacity to add style and class to any musical endeavor, and indeed to define "Canterbury-esque" roughly four decades after his first appearance on the scene.