Scandinavia’s powerful Atomic settle into life with drummer Hans Hulbækmo and find new energy | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Scandinavia’s powerful Atomic settle into life with drummer Hans Hulbækmo and find new energy 

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click to enlarge Atomic


Sergio Merino

On last year’s Six Easy Pieces (Odin), the long-running Scandinavian freebop quintet Atomic truly settled into life with drummer Hans Hulbækmo, who replaced founding percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love in 2014. As anyone who’s ever experienced the volcanic, shape-shifting work of Nilssen-Love can imagine, he left some massive shoes to fill. Hulbækmo wisely made no effort to replicate his predecessor’s presence, opting instead for a more gentle, swing-oriented approach. Compared to his first release with Atomic, 2015’s Lucidity (Jazzland Recordings), he definitely sounds more unified with the band on the latest. His confidence shows in his wonderfully staggering solo after saxophonist Fredrik Ljungvkist’s theme statement on “Fålt Strid” (a piece named for two of Sweden’s most expressive and original drummers, Jon Fålt and Raymond Strid, respectively). The focus on Hulbækmo’s ascendance doesn’t obscure how the rest of the band continues to meld structural constructs and chamberlike interplay gleaned from 20th-century classical music with ferociously driving postbop and free jazz. Ljungvkist and pianist Håvard Wiik once again share composing responsibilities, and while they both favor multipartite pieces that snap crisply from one episode to the next, there’s a clear difference between their styles. The former has a thing for thrilling, rhythmic wind-ups; the patterns of ascending and descending melody he creates help to convey a giddy, hurtling sense of momentum, which he interrupts with teetering passages of stop-time intimacy, as on the hyperactive opener “Be Wafted.” Wiik can’t help but convey a meditative tension informed by the music of Morton Feldman—his concise “Five Easy Pieces” hovers ominously as stately lines and quietly mewling improvised shapes by Ljungvkist’s clarinet and Magnus Broo’s trumpet embroider a shimmering fabric of cascading notes from the piano that, by the flow of their repetition, creates an appealing sensation of static motion. When the group unleash their rhythmic power, they get ridiculous energy from Hulbækmo and bassist Ingebrit Håker Flaten—whose approach to the double bass is so muscular and agile he makes it seem like a toy.   v

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