Atomic – Pet Variations – Odin

by | Apr 19, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Atomic – Pet Variations – [TrackList follows] – Odin, ODINCD9568, 54:15 [2/1/19] ****:

A lot of jazz fans incorrectly assume Nordic and/or Scandinavian jazz is typically ascetic, melancholic and echoes the cool minimalism of Scandinavian folk tunes or modern classical music structures. Such material is typified by ECM artists such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Eberhard Weber and related musicians. The Norwegian/Swedish jazz quintet Atomic—which formed in 2000—throws that and other conventions out the window. The group regards American jazz tradition as a major inspiration and focuses on energy, emotionalism and exuberance. But they do not abandon conservatory influences. Instead they fashion a style where jazz, pop, classical and jazz aspects all coexist in original compositions. For the ensemble’s latest album, they decided to forgo self-penned work and do something they’ve never attempted: an all-covers project, the 54-minute Pet Variations, with music which ranges from Brian Wilson to Olivier Messiaen, and from Steve Lacy to Edgard Varèse. Co-founder and pianist Håvard Wiik explains, “We just thought it would make a change. We didn’t think about genre when we made the choices. We just brought in music that we felt would fit the group’s sound.” The extensive diversity means the eight tracks go in many different directions while maintaining a distinct identity. Pet Variations is available as a high-quality digital download; as a two-sided LP with a gatefold cover; and as a CD. This review refers to the CD.

Atomic begins with the nearly nine-minute two-tune medley, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds,” which combines Wiik’s title track (the album’s only original) and the Beach Boys hit, “Pet Sounds.” Atomic commences with modern jazz replete with Fredrick Ljungkvist’s ardent sax, Wiik’s piano and Magnus Broo’s trumpet and recasts Wilson’s intricate harmonics and modern-pop inclination within the arrangement’s jazz commitment.

The reorganized classical music provides another fascinating facet. “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” (English: “A Great Black Sleep”) is a Varèse composition written prior to World War One (most of Varèse’s early European music was either lost or destroyed in a Berlin warehouse fire). “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” was created for soprano saxophone and piano, after a Paul Verlaine poem. Atomic adds a sacramental and prescribed measurement to Varèse’s shadowy piece and reforms “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” into chamber jazz underscored by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s arco and pizzicato bass and drummer Hans Hulbækmo’s unruffled rhythmic placidness. Olivier Messiaen’s “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus,” (English: “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus”) the fifth movement of his chamber music conception, “Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time),” is also shifted into a somber chamber jazz outing by Atomic. Messiaen scored this for cello and piano; Atomic employ Broo on brooding trumpet, Ljunkvist on clarinet, and minimal support on piano, bass and drums. While this nearly eight-minute cut is not quite a hymn, it does contain a toned-down ritualistic character.

Several jazz tunes are refashioned with Atomic’s unique approach. Steve Lacy’s “Art” (from Momentum, 1987) was initially performed as a jazz poetry piece with Irene Aebi singing Herman Melville’s brief poem. Atomic’s subdued version jettisons the lyrics and centers on a transcendental slant which mixes modern jazz with some chamber music leanings emphasized by Ljungkvist’s clarinet, Broo’s trumpet and Wiik’s piano. The shortest number is Carla Bley’s slightly eccentric and skittering “Walking Woman,” first done by Paul Bley (Barrage, 1964). Atomic understates Paul Bley’s rebellious arrangement and tones things down but doesn’t lose Carly Bley’s humorous quality or satirical attributes. Another tune associated with Paul Bley is Jimmy Giuffre’s “Cry Want,” recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 (which included Bley) on the 1961 Fusion LP. Atomic’s adaptation magnifies Giuffre’s arrangement with contributions from Ljungkvist on clarinet and Wiik on piano. Atomic closes with an ironic surprise. It might be odd to hear Atomic covering Jan Garbarek, since most of Garbarek’s career has involved his new age-esque jazz, and Atomic eschews such stuff. However, Garbarek began his musical life emulating Albert Ayler as well as John Coltrane. And that’s the era where Garbarek’s “Karin’s Mode” comes from (see Garbarek’s 1969 record, Esoteric Circle). Atomic’s six-minute translation was taped in one take with no rehearsal and keeps the original’s edgy nature and compelling rhythm, although Atomic doesn’t replicate guitarist Terje Rypdal’s psychedelic effects and amped-up attack, or Jon Christensen’s heavy percussion. Atomic may not be as recognized in the states as in northern Europe, but Pet Variations hopefully will change that perception. The fivesome’s re-configured contemporary classical and individualistic jazz is the sort of aspiring and exploratory jazz the world needs more of.

Fredrick Ljungkvist – saxophone, clarinet; Magnus Broo – trumpet; Håvard Wiik – piano; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – bass; Hans Hulbækmo – drums

Pet Variations/Pet Sounds
Walking Woman
Un Grand Sommeil Noir
Cry Want
Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus
Karin’s Mode

—Doug Simpson



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