Atomic: Pet Variations

Mark Corroto By

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The Scandinavian supergroup Atomic has always pushed back against "tradition," be it the customary sound of Nordic jazz or—maybe more importantly—what most believe to be the avant-garde. Each member has a thriving career outside the quintet: bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten with The Young Mothers, The Thing, Rempis Percussion Quartet, and his own trio and quartets, drummer Hans Hulbækmo with Moskus, pianist Håvard Wiik with Ken Vandermark and the Wiik Trio, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist's work with Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity and Territory Band(s), and Magnus Broo with Angles, IPA. A unique synergism occurs when they come together to tour and record, which they have done since 2000. Over a dozen recordings, from Feet Music (Jazzland, 2001) to their penultimate Six Easy Pieces (Odin, 2017), Atomic's sound successfully melds brainy music with discerning energy. "Sleepy Scandinavian jazz" is not an accurate descriptor.

With Pet Variations, the quintet has changed directions a bit. Where their previous recordings presented all original material, here they perform eight covers. But not just any eight. Besides Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds," the music includes French composers Olivier Messiaen ("Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus") and Edgard Varèse ("Un Grand Sommeil Noir"), Steve Lacy ("Art"), Alexander von Schlippenbach ("Inri"), Jimmy Giuffre ("Cry Want"), Carla Bley ("Walking Woman"), and Jan Garbarek ("Karin's Mode").

Now that is certainly stretching far and wide for inspiration! Not to worry; this is Atomic's music. The opening track "Pet Variations / Pet Sound" fuses the Beach Boys' studio sound with Wiik's exhilarated stylings. It's disciplined, yet rowdy. So are many of the other tracks. Bley's "Walking Woman" has a bit too much to drink, with Ljungkvist's saxophone and Wiik's piano teetering in an unbalanced walk until the stumble is handed off to Broo and Flaten. The Messiaen and Varèse compositions are soulful, reflective hymns performed with suppleness and grace befitting the composers. The highlights are "Art" and "Cry Want," both emphasizing the patience and musicianship of this quintet. This may be a supergroup, but there are no spotlight-hogging prima donnas.

Track Listing: Pet Variations/Pet Sounds; Art; Walking Woman; Un Grand Sommeil Noir; Cry Want; Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus; Inri; Karin’s Mode.

Personnel: Fredrik Ljungkvist: saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Håvard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbækmo: drums.

Title: Pet Variations | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Odin Records

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