Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Atomic: Theater Tilters

Atomic (group; formed 2000)
Theater Tilters (Jazzland; 2010)

Fredrik Ljungkvist (sax; clarinet)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)
Havard Wiik (piano)
Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass)
Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)

Atomic along with The Vandermark 5 are probably the two most important free jazz groups around today. The similarities are obvious. Each has a unique sound world that embraces both structure and freedom. But in the case of Atomic, the Swedish/Norwegian quintet utilizes a little more subtle melody, thanks to the inclusion of Havard Wiik on piano.

Theater Tilters is the groups second live album (a two disc set) and as with the first live (included in the three disc set Retrograde from 2008), Atomic prove they are growing increasingly innovative and versatile. The album was recorded over two night in October of last year.

Theater Tilters opens on a lovely violent and discordant note of "Green Mill Tilter" (possibly named after the famous Chicago jazz club) and never lets up. "Green Mill Titler" slides into a groove led by Wiik and Haker-Flaten and some battling between horns and drums. And then all-stop. We are then treated to probably the most melody friendly track of the proceedings "Andersonville" which sees Fredrik Ljungkvist leading the way on clarinet. This is a wonder piece with nice balance of free jazz and almost classical themes. It's a tasty piece of work and also the longest track over both discs. "Bop About" (originally featured on the bands third album The Bikini Tapes) closes the first disc sheer tour de force for all the members and definitely in the Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp realm of frenzied rhythms and patterns. A perfect way to end the side one.

One of my favourite Atomic tracks that I could listen to everyday opens disc two, "Roma" (which also opens the band forth album Happy New Years) is blistering six minute piece that shows each member adding fuel to an already rampant fire of an evening. Wiik's forceful movement on piano are countered by Nilssen-Loves pulsating cacophony on drums. Broo and Ljungkvist add some scintilating treatments to make these a white noise affair but one that you will fall in love with quickly. Things between to calm down a bit with "Snguine" and "Edit" as Broo takes a more of the lead with some beautiful coloring reminiscent of Enirco Rava. These two tracks bristle with freedom and romanticism all the while holding a creative European edge.

Theater Tilters finally closes with the perfect example of the bands freedom and individuality "Two Boxes". "Two Boxes" features some fantastic interplay that really does go "out there" and back. Killer stuff from Ljungkvist, Haker-Flaten and Wiik with the rest of band closing in like climax of a horror movie.

Now as with The Vandermark 5, The Thing and Supersilent, Atomic are not for the faint at heart. This is an attack on the senses but the melody is there once you let the sounds envelope you. Theater Tilters is just another in the amazing cannon of one Europe's finest jazz groups. This is not my first choice for the Atomic uninitiated but if you want adventure in your music--Atomic is a great band to start with. Enjoy...

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