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Friday, February 27, 2015

Atomic - Lucidity (Jazz Land, 2015) *****

By Paul Acquaro

The opening bars of Lucidity reminded me of something. The refined relaxed piano and unison melody on the trumpet and sax invoked a sound that was at once classic and unique. From what I read here, structure, sound, and attitude referencing classic post-bop / free-jazz, mixed with free passages and virtuosic playing is the winning formula that Atomic has been tweaking over their many albums since 2001. I can't imagine any reason to change it, it's a delight.

I had the pleasure of seeing Atomic for the first date of their recent North American tour. In the opening moments of the show, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist introduced the band - the great Magnus Broo on trumpet, the intense Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass, most recent member Hans Hulbœkmo on drums and then the empty bench of the group's main composer pianist Håvard Wiik. Dues to unforeseen circumstances, Wiik was detained in Europe. With grace and humor, the temporary quartet's modified set list still left the audience gobsmacked. And it was kind of a tough crowd - a glance around the room revealed a number of well known musicians listening. After the sets, Broo explained how they reached back into their repertoire and quickly rearranged the tunes. You couldn't tell. 

Well, listening to the album, you can a bit. The album is a bit less raucous; however, even this is with many exceptions, for example on the title track, they delve deep and energetically into group improv. The moments of reflection, like on 'Start Stop' is where you see how much the piano has an impact on the group's sound. Wiik is reserved, he opts for splices of sound, fragments of melody, outlining and letting the group full in the sound. Fredrik Ljungkvist's clarinet work on the same track is excellent as well, working with ideas that reference blues and mainstream jazz, his sound is rich but light. Broo is on point too, using scatterings of sound and a bricolage of styles to shade in his part of the piece. 

Hulbœkmo, who joined in late summer, taking over from the Paal Nilssen-Love, connects with the group in all the right ways. His playing can be lithe and driving, or flat out powerful, and he locks in tightly with Haker-Flaten who walks, runs, swings and stomps throughout on the upright bass. A highlight of their interplay happens on the track 'Major' while Wiik's piano punctuates, Broo's trumpet navigates, and at the half way point, he plays a fantastic solo with the bass and drums skittering about.  

The gentle and lyrical December closes the album on a sentimental note, but not too sentimental. There is an edge, a brightness, to Atomic's classic sound. There is something subversive happening, and even at its most delicate, it's as tough as nails. Highly recommended.

Take a listen.


Antonio said...

Thanks for the nice review, Paul. It seems like a really great record.

mike said...

Nice review. I would hope that all performances are more raucous that the recording. The element of the live performance hopefully dissolves the sterility of the studio. I have always felt the glasses clinking on the table is as much an influence on the live performance as the charts.

Anonymous said...

Didn't know Nilssen-Love left. Still a bit shocked since he fit in perfectly. I'd like to know if the reason is musical or just his busy schedule. Let's see how the new guy fits in.

Captain Hate said...

I saw them in Cleveland and Haker Flaten said PNL is interested in playing more strictly improv than more composed pieces. They played two nice sets of, I assume, exclusively from the new release which, because of some snafu, they didn't have available. That enabled me to pick up Ljunqvist's Yun Kan 10 double disc set (sold for the same price as single discs; if nothing else I am cheap) which is very good.