Sunday, July 19, 2009

2002 : 14 "Naera Grensen" by Atomic

It's fitting that Scandinavian jazz quintet Atomic named Feet Music, their debut album, after an Ornette Coleman composition. One of the fundaments of Coleman's musical philosophy called harmolodics is that harmony, melody, rhythm, tempo, silence, et al., should receive equal emphasis in a piece. This allows the harmolodic composer to get around some traditional modes in song writing—for instance, laboriously mapping out chord patterns—and it requires jazz musicians improvising harmolodically to pay serious attention. They need to be open to a wide array of options for improvisation at any given moment, open to the other musicians in the group bringing unexpected ideas into the mix, and, ideally, this produces a broader range of sounds and more surprising interplay. Though Atomic sounds little like Ornette and isn't harmolodically doctrinaire—if that’s even possible (the theory seems to change every year)—the band is made up of unique "options aware" composers, and their attention to each other when improvising is simply awe-inspiring. Many of the pieces on Feet Music wed the improvisational thrust of Energy (or Fire) Music—born in the '60s of avant-garde greats like Albert Ayler and Charles Gayle—with skillful, yet quirky, scripted passages reminiscent of so-called "European" American composers like Steve Lacy and George Russell. The first track on the album, "Naera Grensen," is a good example of this. It opens with each member of the band (save drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) playing a short take on a phrase. Directly following that, these takes get loosely incorporated into a complicated, but graceful, little horn arrangement. The piece peaks with inspired improvisation by Håvard Wiik on the keys, whose seemingly extrasensory connection with Nilssen-Love is especially gratifying. Feet Music isn't perfect—some of the later tracks (especially "El Coto") are derivative of Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra—but I'm okay with that. It's a first album, after all. Feet Music is an impressive debut.

Eric Burger

Listen: Atomic >> "Naera Grensen"

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