Atomic - Pet Variations

Label: Odin Records, 2019

Personnel - Fredrik Ljungkvist: saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Havard Wiik: piano; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Hans Hulbaekmo: drums.

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The jazz quintet Atomic is composed of some of the finest Swedish and Norwegian improvisers out there, namely, trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Havard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo. The comprehensive aesthetic range of Pet Variations, an enticing first album entirely made of covers, is one of its strongest points in addition to the cohesive interplay and competent musical conception.

The opening track, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds”, was partly written by Wiik, patiently cooked up by the collective, and terminated with the vein-popping melody of The Beach Boys' instrumental song that lent its title to their 1966 album. Prior to a fluent solo by Broo, a flexible hornman, the ride cymbal sparkles continually and the bass draws some mystery from resolute plucks. This foundation sustains side-by-side melodic lines while marvelous piano voicings bring jazzy shades of grace to the mutating scenario. A transitory chamber passage soon slips into an agitated groove full of spirit, and the atmosphere compels Ljungkvist to explore rhythm and timbre.

A two-note piano ostinato prepares Steve Lacy’s “Art” to fall into step. Clarinet and trumpet unisons help weaving a docile texture where the arco bass infuses despondency. Marching steadily to the very end, the tune still highlights Wiik, who concentrates efforts in merging the baroque fragrances of Bach with atonal jazz currents.

Drifting and explorative, Carla Bley’s “Walking Woman” offers spontaneous dialogues from sax and piano, and then trumpet and bass. The collective becomes pretty active by the time that Hulbaekmo springs into action.

The cast of experienced musicians also breaks down a couple of contemporary classical pieces. If Varese’s “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” is a chiaroscuro musical canvas with a constant ritualistic pulse and arco bass solemnity opposing to the light-emitting clarity of the horns, Messiaen’s “Louange a L’Eternite de Jesus” is put together with devotional reverence and crescent dramatic tension.

Jimmy Giuffre’s classic “Cry Want” starts off with a trumpet monologue, later turned into a parallel dynamic with the presence of the clarinet. The piano harmonization, reminiscing Herbie Nichols, is rich and beautiful and the beseeching clarinet starts to expand horizons, initially backed by drums only, and then forming a strong improvisational alliance with the piano.

The exciting final part of the album unveils two favorites: “Inri” is an original composition by Alexander Von Schlippenbach whose fluidity and freedom are mirrored in its epic theme statement, electrifying solos, and itchy percussive angst; on its part, Jan Garbarek’s “Karin’s Mode” is an anthemic groovy tune in five, delivered with sophisticated cool.

Boasting an excellent repertoire, Atomic has great stuff to share and this borrowed material is as strong as their originals.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
05 - Cry Want ► 07 - Inri ► 08 - Karin’s Mode