To claim that such and such a musician proves that jazz is not dead is just as big (if not bigger) a cliché as declaring jazz dead. That said, listening to a group that merrily goes beyond (or around) the technical difficulties of contemporary jazz so as to simply expend their youthful energies and make some noise, still evokes a special kind of pleasure. Furthermore, just because Norway is a cold country doesn't mean the music should be too. It's not for nothing that Ken Vandermark wrote in his over-excited liner notes: Chicago in the winter is probably almost as cold as Oslo.
With a name like Atomic and two albums titled Feet Music and Boom Boom, one could be pardoned for expecting electro-jazz of some brand or other. However, Atomic sports a most traditional trumpet-sax-piano-bass-drums line-up. As the Vandermark reference suggests, what makes this band a joy to listen to is that they are part of that fraction of the jazz world that is not afraid to combine the energies unleashed by both bop and free jazz. The title track shows this clearly, as Paal Nilssen-Love drums up a thunderous, Elvin Jones-like swing: he, along with pianist HÂvard Wiik, is the group's lynchpin. While trumpeter Magnus Broo shatters his tone and pauses only to avoid fainting, reedman Fredrik Ljungkvist would rather draw lazy blotches or dotted outlines without breaking a sweat.
"Feets From Above" and "Hyper" show a marked Ornette Coleman influence. The former rests on a rickety melody, after which Ljungkvist is free to pay his own tribute to Coleman in his harsh herky-jerky phrasing. The latter frames a furious piano-drums bashing in a more dignified unison theme. Lennie Tristano and Bill Evans come into play on "Re-Lee", its bouncy swing and three-way simultaneous improvising recalling the blind pianist; and Wiik's solo on "Cleaning the Dome" possesses that barely restrained aggression tempered only by the last remnants of late-period Bill Evans' lyricism.
But not everything is about high-energy playing. The calm and spare, but not austere "Toner Fran Forr" cuts up increasingly New Orleans-tinged written and improvised material with clattering percussion interludes. "Praeludium" is a Hindemith transcription, a warm ballad which is slightly soured by Ljungkvist's uncertain clarinet. The album closes with Radiohead's stately "Pyramid Song". Not much is added to the original's unusually paced 4/4, but it's still a nice moment. It is often said that post-Tin Pan Alley popular music is too musically poor to make good jazz material, but I would argue, rather, that it is much more difficult to add something of significance to a piece conceived as a self-sufficient studio creation (be it Radiohead or Stevie Wonder) than to a Tin Pan Alley song made to be portable from one format to another.
Those who have heard Feet Music will notice that Boom Boom is more conceptual and less direct. While this could be reason to prefer the former to the latter, it is not a reason to pass it over.