Karin Krog and John Surman ‘Songs about this and that’ (Meantime) 4/5

Karin-Krog_John-SurmanVocal and reed duets are an occasional, but nonetheless very welcome combination in jazz, and so it proves with the pairing of Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog, who has in the distant past teamed up with Dexter Gordon among others, and Cornish multi-reedist John Surman who is quite simply one of the UK’s very finest musicians. The underlying theme on this latest project is that of everyday aspects of life, hence the choice of title, and the quintet comprising acoustic and electric guitar, vibes, bass and drums and Surman’s own impressive array of reed instrumentation makes for a fine accompaniment to Krog’s always inventive and never formulaic vocals. This is music that could only come out for Scandinavia such is the peaceful and reposing nature of the sounds created and at a tempo that almost seems specifically designed to heal the soul. A truly uplifting song is unsurprisingly named ‘Happy Song’ and here the use of baritone saxophone, vocals and guitar lends a wonderful intimacy to the number. In an altogether more haunting vein, ‘Mirror Song’ features Surman on bass recorder and the sound produced evokes a deeply Nordic landscape with a church-like warmth and some lovely Metheny-esque guitar licks from Bjorn Klakegg as well as a vibes solo. For some austere and pared down instrumentation, the atmospheric opener ‘Cherry Tree Song’ fits the bill while ‘Question Song’ has more of an experimental feel and in its use of electric keyboards conveys a moodier and sombre ambience.

Some comment finally should be made of the creative graphics by Siste Skrik and Nina Regine Hjelle that spawn the cover art and this harks back to the art deco era and is a wonderful way of capturing the music in visual form. The music incidentally was jointly composed by the lead pair for the 2010 Voss jazz festival in Norway and was recorded at the legendary Rainbow studio in Oslo.

Tim Stenhouse