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Atomic: Six Easy Pieces

Karl Ackermann By

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Founded in 2000, the Swedish/Norwegian group Atomic has remained true to their uncommon blend of American and European influences over the years. With only one lineup change since their inception, the quintet continues to pay homage—in equal parts—to the post 1960s era in the US, and the inherent innovations of Europe's northern-most region. With Six Easy Pieces the group sounds much as they did with their debut Feet Music (Jazzland Recordings, 2001) but with years of synergy to enhance their performances.

The lineup consists of trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Håvard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Hans Hulbækmo who replaced Paal Nilssen-Love beginning with Lucidity (Jazzland, 2015). Broo's resume includes projects with Ken Vandermark and Marilyn Crispell and he is a member of Angles 9. Ljungkvist has played with a who's-who of top regional artists including Anders Jormin, Mats Gustafsson and Bobo Stenson. Wiik has been a leader as a soloist and with his namesake trio as well as a sideman for Stian Carstensen and a member of the group Motif. The pianist has worked with Flaten outside of this quintet and has recorded solo and with his own quintet. Still in his twenties, Hulbækmo has already appeared on more than twenty recordings.

Not surprisingly, the Six Easy Pieces of the title are far more complex than the designation would suggest. The CD version of the release also includes two additional discs culled from recent, live performances in Japan. The studio album begins with "Be Wafted"; its subdued piano and horns setting in motion a breakout of asymmetrical swing rhythms and then a further reach into free improvisation. Broo eventually opens into a free, propulsive solo that torches the piece. Haker Flaten and Hulbækmo's intro to "Fält Strife" leads to a soulful and fiery performance from Ljungkvist. The mood shifts again with a quiet and mysterious Wiik contribution to "Five Easy Pieces" but quickly accelerates with "Ten Years" where Hulbækmo employs a variety of percussion tools before Haker Flaten resets the piece, bringing in the rest of the band in a patient build up to a wild improvisation from Ljungkvist, and then back to a calming Broo solo. "Sinusoidal Arches" is more overtly abstract and features intriguing piano work from Wiik, leading to the concluding studio piece "Stuck in Stockholm." Haker Flaten's extended bass solo is a thing of beauty and brings us to some symmetrical horn work and fine stand-alone work from each member of the group.

The two live bonus discs contain nine performances captured over two sets at Tokyo's Pit-Inn, early in 2016. Much of the live material is from the new album (three numbers) and its predecessor Lucidity (another three). Particularly standing out from the latter album is "Laterna Interfult," an intensely animated version of the original and "Stuck in Stockholm." "Stuck...," while truer to the studio take, bristles with the kind of energy that Atomic generates in the live environment. The live sets close with an older piece, "Bop About" from Theater Tilters Vol 1 (Jazzland, 2010), a composition that perfectly demonstrates the ability seamlessly blend tradition with invention.

Six Easy Pieces is Atomic's eleventh album and their debut on the Odin label. They have consistently created music that is equally affecting whether reflective—such as "Five Easy Pieces"—or a white-knuckled ride like the title track from Boom Boom (Jazzland, 2002). Live, or in the studio, the group plays with a virtuosic enthusiasm that hasn't diminished over the past seventeen years.

Track Listing: Studio: Be Wafted; Fält Strife; Five Easy Pieces; Ten Years; Sinusoidal Arches; Stuck in Stockholm. First Set: Lucidity; Start Stop; Laterna Interfuit; Be Wafted. Second Set: Major; A New Junction; Ten Years; Stuck in Stockholm; Bop About.

Personnel: Fredrik Ljungkvist: reeds; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Håvard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbœkmo: drums.

Title: Six Easy Pieces | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Odin Records

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