The bands Atomic and School Days share the same rhythm section : Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Atomic further consists of Magnus Broo on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor sax and Bb clarinet, and Havard Wiik on piano. School Days has Chicagoans Jeb Bishop on trombone and Ken Vandermark on baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet and Norwegian Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone. After "Nuclear Assembly Hall" this is the second release by the octet, and again a double CD. All these guys are very prolific, and I think that this year Magnus Broo beats Ken Vandermark to it, this being the 6th release this year to which he contributes if my calculations are correct. The band has the same overall style as Atomic, but the additional instruments give it a broader range while not necessarily having the same sense of focus. Because all musicians are excellent, they also get ample space to improvise and show off their skills. All tracks are composed with the brass section playing the themes in unison as in the best bop tradition, but they can be adventurous and entirely modern at the same time. The first two tracks illustrate this quite well. Jeb Bishop's "Deadline" is a fast-swinging bop piece with a strong solo by Haker Flaten, while "Irrational Ceremony" could count as its slow counterpart, with arco bass, melodic piano, as a long intro for a beautiful horn theme somewhere in the middle of the piece, and for Bishop to take the first solo improvisation, followed by Broo and Nordeson, chaos follows only to flow back into the main theme in full force, dropping dead on one single vibe note, back into gentler regions.
Apart from the superb musicianship, the band's great strength is that they can move within a single piece from one style of jazz to another, making it all sound very consistent as if it was the most natural thing to do to move from cinematic big band swing to screaming saxes, interspersed with some Latin rhythms and once in a while rock attitudes. Listen to Ljungkvist's "Andersonville" to get an idea. And that can only be achieved because this band has not only very open ears and respect for all these subgenres, but more importantly they enjoy every single note of it. Listen to the contrast in styles in the last track, a Vandermark composition, with the reeds and trombone playing a slow eery background tune, over which Broo's trumpet and Paal Nilssen-Love's drums dance like crazy, just to suddenly jump into full bop mode, with the sax, piano and bass taking over. This is wonderful fun to hear. This is not boundary-shifting music, nor does it aspire to great artistic achievements. But it's a great performance by a band (or is it two bands?) that really starts benefiting from playing a lot together. I would love to see this band perform live.
(When talking about this record last week at a concert to a musician, her reaction was : "too many big egos for one band" - I can tell you : it is certainly not the case! - or at least it does not seem to affect the music!)