Founded in 2004, the Norwegian group SynKoke constructed their name by combining the Norwegian word Koke, meaning ‘boil’, with the archaic Greek ‘Syn’, meaning together. Those who boil together are keyboard player Kristian Notland Harnes, saxophonist Erik Nerheim, Ole Ådland (guitar), Ellen Andrea Wang (electric bass), and Kurt Andrè Aase (drums). Their music is chiefly written by Harnes and Nerheim.
The Ideologist (released on their own Kokeplate label) is SynKoke’s second album, and a more confident effort than their last, Hokjønn (‘Female’), released in 2009 on AIM Sound City.
They call their style ‘punked prog-jazz’, and yes, that does seem conceptually appropriate. On Hokjønn the quintet’s sound has much in common with generational peers such as Led Bib, Get the Blessing and Gutbucket, all mining the punk jazz seam with varying degrees of success. SynKoke cite Motorpsycho and Arvo Pärt as influences. The former I can hear clearly in The Ideologist, the latter not at all.
“The Red Song” is a staccato, pummelling, pile-driving opening salvo, and the following “And Himself Too. And God” kicks off like many another post-downtown NYC punk jazz theme, only to slide into moody introspection. The album’s centrepiece, and its most lengthy track, “Prisoner” runs with that blue mood, building ominously, wafting palls of electric keys and distorted, FX’d guitar and Nerheim’s subdued but incisive alto sax melody over a portentous rhythm pulse.
“The Blue Song” is a wakeup call, a short, frenetic pileup with a fallout coda, its constituent parts still reverberating in weightless space; an appropriate prelude to “Our Solar System, All the Ideologies, and Me”. Unison sustains skim monumental riffage as prelude to another coda, taking the group in short order from near silence to juddering collective climax.
I managed to catch both SynKoke and Ellen Andrea Wang’s more conventionally jazzy quartet Pixel at the recent Match & Fuse festival in London, and The Ideologist is a fair snapshot of their set, albeit a compression of it. As with Motorpsycho, you get the sense that SynKoke should excel in brooding long-form sets that stretch restraint of power to the max. Here, their every aspect is condensed into the album’s lean 33 minutes.
It’s a heady thought, how far, and how deep the group could take this collective sound. But the main players all have other projects on the go. Harness, for example, also has a synthpop trio, Supermale, while Wang is enjoying some success at the moment with Pixel, their album Reminder, and its unrepresentative vocal track and single, the shrill “Call Me”, which I just can’t bear (the rest of the album is perfectly fine). The point being, catch SynKoke, if you can, while they are still together, boiling up this distinctively heady brew of jazz-metal fusion.