Wednesday, July 22, 2015

CD Review: Atomic - Lucidity


The Scandinavian quintet Atomic comes on like a forward-thinking chamber group, all tranquil and calm, only to unleash a torrent of wild blowing on the unsuspecting listener. They're willing to pull back just as quickly and restate the calm as they are to keep it untethered, or, more likely, to journey off to a different place altogether.

It's no surprise that a track appears on Lucidity, their eleventh record, called "Start/Stop," as the music does just that. Quick blasts from Fredrik Ljungkvist's clarinet and Magnus Broo's trumpet recall similar interjections from the Art Ensemble, The title track offers a bit of a contradiction. Broo blows gruffly in the beginning, over an odd-time ostinato. Ljunkvist, now on tenor, has pianist Hävard Wiik joining him, with bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flåten's bass lingering in the background. By the end, the entire quintet reconvenes for a roaring climax.

As detailed as the pieces (written by either Ljunkvist or Wiik), the group is also capable of playing it simple. When "A MacGuffin's Tale" opens up for solos,  Flåten holds it together with a one-note vamp. Earlier in the album, on "A New Junction," he plucks a bass solo with an aggression that tests the strength of his strings, to the accompaniment of woodblocks.

In the past Atomic has come off sounding a little closer to a rollicking modern jazz unit similar to the ones blazing out of Chicago. That approach probably explains their close association with the Vandermark 5, with whom they toured the US in the early '00s. (Original Atomic drummer Paal Nilssen-Love also played in a few Vandermark projects.) The current band - with Hans Hulbœkmo replacing Nilssen-Love - has moved into a musical realm that's not as easy to define, but it piques the interest in a way that keeps you coming back again to figure out what's going on, whether motifs in "Laterna Interfruit" reocurr at the end or if they're just a passing memory.

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