Living up to their name in performance and on record, the all-star Norwegian quintet Atomic challenges preconceived notions regarding the stereotypically introspective nature of Nordic jazz. Inspired by the unbridled spirit of 1960s American "Fire Music" and the post-war school of European free improvisation, Atomic eclipses the meditative lyricism of influential local legends like Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal, exemplifying the broad stylistic diversity of contemporary Scandinavian jazz.
Lucidity consists of seven new tunes written by either Ljungkvist or Wiik, the ensemble's primary composers, who favor episodic non-linear narratives over conventional song structures. The opener, "Laterna Interfuit" starts quietly, although the band quickly picks up steam; within a minute and a half the piece blossoms into a riot of dizzying refrains and halting staccato phrases interleaved with disarmingly plangent interludes. The dynamic title track follows a similarly discursive path; buoyed by Hulbækmo's youthful enthusiasm, its hard bop-inflected theme is boldly extemporized by Broo's bristling intervals and Ljungkvist's cascading torrents.
Demonstrating a convincing flair for atmospheric subtlety and melodic sophistication, "Start/Stop" inverts the unit's usual approach, punctuating passages of melancholy impressionism with histrionic outbursts, while the lyrical closer, "December," presents Wiik's neoclassical pianism and Haker Flaten's sinewy arco flirting with atonality, but never at the expense of the number's folksy demeanor.
The band members' seasoned rapport gracefully balances cathartic expressionism with calm introspection throughout the session. Whether careening through the quicksilver swing of "Major" or exploring the haunting textural nuances of "A New Junction," Atomic proves there is far more variety in creative improvised music from the Northern countries than mainstream outlets often suggest.
Laterna Interfruit; A New Junction; Lucidity; Start/Stop; A MacGuffin’s Tale; Major; December.
Fredrik Ljungkvist: reeds; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Håvard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbœkmo: drums.