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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 242 - 05/21/16

AltrOck Productions

Panzerpappa must be one of the most underrated bands in Norway. Their new album slipped out so quietly in their home country that it even went unnoticed for me who consider myself a great fan and have witnessed the band live numerous times in Oslo and even once in southern France. Well, shame on me who don't visit Facebook frequently including the band's site there. The album was released in March, on the Italian AltrOck label this time, that might be a reason why it went under my radar. The previous one, Astromalist, was released on the somewhat prestigious Norwegian jazz, rock and noise label Rune Grammofon. Why they had to go abroad for the new one, I don't know.

Anyways, the Panzerpappa members play a kind of instrumental progressive jazz-rock inspired by many of the best European groups from the 1970s and beyond. Bands like King Crimson, Univers Zero, Samla Mammas Manna, Hatfield & The North, Soft Machine etc. are often mentioned as sources of inspiration. In 2007 Panzerpappa played support for the old zeuhl/Rock In Opposition (RIO) ensemble Magma in Oslo. The band has been associated with the RIO movement and was a success at the 2013 RIO Festival . Last summer they appeared at the Zappanale Festival in northern Germany where Frank Zappa is being celebrated. Well, Panzerpappa plays a more lightweight music than some of the ones mentioned, though not in the sense that it is light and easy. On the contrary, but it hardly include the dark gloom of neither Univers Zero, Magma nor King Crimson. So I guess Hatfield and Samla Mammas come closest. While the latter band name deals with Mummy, Panzerpappa has to do with Daddy. Not a coincidence. There are lots of humour involved here, though it's not that easy to notice when you play the albums, apart from the titles of the tracks, if you understand the language they're written in.

Pestrottedans (meaning Dance Of The Plague Rat, got it?) is the band's sixth longplayer and the first in four years. To me it seems to be an even tighter, more well-rehearsed and planned in more detail before they entered the studio than any of the earlier albums. Maybe a bit too much for its own good here and there? I think the band might've gained by loosening the tight safety net just a little. Taken some chances and improvised a bit. On the other hand, they probably had a tight budget and couldn't use limitless studio time. The sound isn't substantially different from the previous album. The main difference from Astromalist probably is the use of brass instruments, a few times it almost sounds like an old-fashioned jazzy big band. But the cover informs that Nobody plays brass. Which has to mean we're dealing with brass sounds played by keyboards. Keyboard player Steinar Børve also plays real saxophones and an electric wind instrument sounding like a clarinet. Another asset is Jarle Storløkken's guitar playing, intricate and melodic at the same time, often with a clear sound that reminds of Phil Miller's, the extraordinary guitar player from Matching Mole, Hatfield & The North and National Health in the 1970s, In Cahoots and numerous other projects later on. There's also Trond Gjellum's elegant percussive details spread throughout. And so on.

The main asset, though, are the compositions themselves. They seem so effortlessly put together, but I guess the process has cost quite a deal of blood, sweat and toil. Sometimes the melody returns to the theme where it started, sometimes not. The quick paced ratty title track is probably the most impressive in this respect with several themes, also a calmer part close to classic symphonic prog-rock from the mid-1970s, before it picks up again and continues the hasty pace. A few times Panzerpappa creates grooves that remind me of the band Bruford and the album One Of A Kind from 1979 in particular. One of my all-time high jazz-rock favourites. That band included ace musicians Bill Bruford on drums (of Yes, King Crimson, Gong, Genesis, National Health, U.K. and Earthworks fame), keyboardist Dave Stewart (of Egg, Hatfield & The North, National Health and duo work with Barbara Gaskin) and guitarist Allan Holdsworth (of Nucleus, Tempest, Pierre Moerlen's Gong, Soft Machine, Tony Williams Lifetime, U.K., solo artist and beyond). And Panzerpappa's compositions and instrumental efforts certainly manage to match the Bruford gang without losing any of the Panzerpappa characteristics. "Bakrus I Vinterland" (Hangover In Winter Land) has a sore nostalgic melancholic feel where the band even include an almost accordion sounding keyboard that reminds of French folk or old-fashioned merry-go-round music. In the otherwise gloomy "Goda' Gomorrah" (quite impossible to translate but something like Good Morning Gomorrah or Good Morning Good Morning) they throw in a somewhat merry Gentle Giant sounding xylophone interlude and another that reminds of something from a vintage TV detective series, a. And it works! The same goes for the saloon sounding piano intermezzo of "Landsbysladder 3" (Village Gossip 3). Playful and effortlessly combined with more serious contemporary composed stuff!

It look me several moonths to digest Panzerpappa's previous offer Astromalist and Pestrottedans certainly guarantee long longevity, too. Despite the minor objections above and a bit too much big brass band tendencies, certainly Norwegian (and Italian) album of the year so far for me.

PS! Panzerpappa's first four albums and also Pestrottedans are now available at the Bandcamp site.

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You may also want to check out our Panzerpappa article/review: Farlig Vandring.

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