Now here’s a band that has had a long gestation period. Soft Ffog began life as one-off, a group formed to perform a gig commissioned by Kongsberg Jazzfestival in 2016. Although the event was considered something of a success, the band failed to gain traction as a proper working band. The group’s members had busy schedules with other bands and projects to consider, so the group was only able to play gigs every now and then. These dates did, of course, allow the band time to hone and refine its sound, and so bandleader Tom Hasslan decided in 2020 that the time was right to record their first album with all compositions written by himself.
The band consists of musical personalities from other acts. The band leader is guitarist Tom Hasslan from Krokofant, and he is joined by Krokofant’s Axel Skalstad on drums, along with Trond Frønes of Red Kite and Grand General on bass with Vegard Lien Bjerkan of WIZRD on keyboards. The album Soft Ffog was recorded at Studio Paradiso with Christian Engfelt as engineer and producer.
The music is a lively mix of various and varied influences. It is an instrumental group that, by and large, draws on the jazz inclinations stowed away in the sounds of familiar rock bands to create something new and intriguing. The band themselves suggest that if you could think of Jimi Hendrix playing with Deep Purple in a style somewhat akin to Gentle Giant then it would be a band that missed its mark because of imbibing too much jazz. A rather convoluted explanation, but one that describes the sounds here in. The outcome has something in common with fellow Norwegians Elephant9, with healthy nods towards King Crimson, Terje Rypdal, Pat Metheny, Soft Machine, Camel along with a modicum of Canterbury. Aristocrats come to mind too. It is flamboyant without being showy, bright-coloured but not garish. The tracks are all named after characters from the video game Street Fighter. The band are brilliantly adept a playing with tempos and atmospheres to musically animate these characters. Chun Li is thoughtful and well-mannered before careering off into intense soloing, Zangief is lively, fiery and ever shifting, Ken more amorphous and atmospheric, whilst Dhalsim is quirkier and has a barely hidden power. The whole album is only just short of thirty-six minutes long so no track has time to become overbearing, the tunes being contained roughly within the eight to ten minutes limit.
This album could easily have subsided into brash unfocussed workouts of noodling irrelevant musical bragging. It is far from that. It is an inventive and playful depiction of what you can do with jazz rock. This suggests that if the collaboration of these talents is able to continue the results might prove to be powerful and most entertaining.
1 Chun Li
Tom Hasslan – guitars
Axel Akalstad – drums
Trond Frønes – bass
Vegard Lien Bjerkan – keyboards
Release date: 27th May 2022
Label: Is It Jazz? Records
Formats: CD / LP / LTD LP (orange vinyl)