Atomic | Green Mill | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Atomic Critic's Choice Recommended Soundboard

When: Fri., March 5, 9 p.m. and Sat., March 6, 8 p.m. 2010

I can't think of a postbop outfit that's been more consistently excellent over the past five or six years than the Scandinavian quintet Atomic. They gather ideas and vocabulary from a huge swath of jazz and improvised music—pretty much anything acoustic that's evolved since the dawn of free jazz in the 60s—and braid them into an undercurrent of ferociously swinging rhythms. On 2008's three-CD set Retrograde they proved they could loosen the strictures of their compositions without sacrificing any focus or intensity, and on the new Theater Tilters Vol. 1 (Jazzland) they take full advantage of the range they've opened up. "Bop About," as its title suggests, is concise, charging postbop, but other tunes plunge deeply into abstraction—"Andersonville" (the name, like "Green Mill Tilter," is a nod to Atomic's Chicago ties) sounds a bit like British heavies AMM in its opening moments, as pianist Haavard Wiik thwacks the strings inside his instrument and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love creates explosive banging and resonant ringing in isolated gestures. The five pieces here, composed by Wiik or reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist (the quintet is rounded out by trumpeter Magnus Broo and bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten), don't slot neatly into one category or the other but rather move fluidly along the spectrum between them from episode to episode, with the tug-of-war between the two poles generating a delicious tension. That's not to say you'll be thinking about any of this as you listen—Atomic are nimble enough for a Formula One track but pack the power of a bulldozer, and you probably won't be able to figure out what hit you till it's all over. Atomic also plays Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center. —Peter Margasak

Price: $12

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