© Andrea Canter
” [Atlantis Quartet] shifts nimbly from a punk-jazz aesthetic to an ECM-ish sensitivity.”–Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times
One of the most praised jazz ensembles in the Twin Cities, the Atlantis Quartet recently celebrated ten years of collaboration and innovative music. At the Icehouse on Monday, July 17, Atlantis (Zacc Harris, Brandon Wozniak, Chris Bates, Pete Hennig) will play two sets started at 9:30 pm.
Band history. Over its first decade, the Atlantis Quartet has impressed reviewers from local media to Jazz Times with its “constantly shifting mosaic of textures, rhythmic patterns, and tonal colors…a band with a limitless future” (City Pages). Coming together in the fall of 2006, four young jazz musicians in Minneapolis created the project as a way to allow the musicians to explore new concepts in modern jazz through composition and collaboration. Saxophonist Brandon Wozniak, guitarist Zacc Harris, drummer Pete Hennig and bassist Travis Schilling met for weekly sessions to work on these original compositions, and released their first album, Again, Too Soon, in 2007. Thus a group of relatively unknown players put themselves on the Twin Cities jazz map.
Chris Bates soon replaced Schilling, and the quartet next released Animal Progress in 2009, prompting Jazz Times critic Bill Milkowski to call the music “startling original” with material that “ranges from grungy and audacious to lyrical and evocative, free-boppish, meditative and swinging.” In 2011, the quartet released Lines In the Sand, recorded live at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul following an East Coast tour and being named “Jazz Artist of the Year” by City Pages. The group received a similar honor in 2012 from the Star Tribune, which dubbed the Atlantis Quartet “Best Jazz Act For People Bored With Jazz.” Lines In the Sand went on to make the City Pages “Top 14 Minnesota-Made Albums of 2011,” the only jazz record to make the list.
Atlantis Quartet returned to the studio for 2013’s Expansion, penning nine new originals and prompting critic Tom Surowicz of the Star Tribune to write, “Atlantis Quartet is one of the Twin Cities’ most potent groups, jazz or otherwise…Expansion is full of arresting originals…rocked-up, serene, hard-swinging and avant-leaning, by turns, with lots to savor and no missteps.” After making their debut at Chicago’s famed Jazz Showcase in 2014,the group received the McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians in 2015; that year the band also headlined opening night at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and performed on the main stage at the Iowa City Jazz Festival, joining Dave Douglas, Julian Lage and Charles Lloyd, and launching the Minnesota-Iowa Jazz Fest Exchange. Released to celebrate their tenth anniversary, the anthology, X, is a complete collection of the quartet’s first four albums as well as six previously unreleased bonus tracks from a live performance in 2013.
When asked how the band has been able to stay together and continue to grow, saxophonist Wozniak says, “All of us are willing to keep coming together on a consistent basis to rehearse, write, and record, because we are committed to – and most importantly – we believe in the concept of the band.” Pete Hennig adds, “The collective process gives a higher level of quality control, more filters to go through before a decision is made about the compositions.” And Wozniak continues, “All four players have different strengths and unique approaches to the music. This forces us to listen, learn from each other and create the best environment to be our most creative selves. We are constantly striving for the goal to have the whole be greater than the sum of its parts.”
The whole is indeed greater than the parts, evident every time the band takes the stage or goes into the studio. And perhaps the trajectory of the Atlantis Quartet mirrors the evolution of the local jazz scene more generally. Notes Chris Bates, “There has been an uptick here in regards to the level of talent and number of players who are striving to make a creative mark in music. That has in turn helped raise the collective bar higher for performance and composition in the improvising community, which has made the audience larger.”
Guitarist Zacc Harris is a California native who came to Minneapolis about ten years ago from Illinois, where he graduated from Southern Illinois University. Here he formed the Luminessence Trio (now Zacc Harris Trio), continuing weekly gigs at the Riverview Wine Bar. In addition to Atlantis, Zaac also leads his Quartet, the Zacc Harris Group, and American Reverie trio; performs with Dean Granros’ Tall Tales, the Adam Meckler Quintet, and Babatunde Lea Quartet; is a founding producer at Shifting Paradigms Records; and teaches at Hamline University and in his private guitar studio. He’s also curated the Jazz at Studio Z series for five seasons. His American Reverie trio released its debut recording this spring.
Saxman Brandon Wozniak previously lived and worked in New York City, toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and earned his BA from Indiana University under the tutelage of the late David Baker. Since arriving in the Twin Cities in 2006, he has performed with local bands including Red Five, Dave King Trucking Company, the Bryan Nichols Quintet, Zacc Harris Quartet, and Vector Families; and in varying combinations with Adam Linz, Billy Peterson, Dean Magraw, Kenny Horst, Zacc Harris, Steve Kenny and more. Over its first three seasons, Brandon has performed on the Jazz in the Target Atrium Series at Orchestra Hall as part of the Atrium Jazz Ensemble, led by Jeremy Walker.
Bassist Chris Bates is one of the busiest musicians in the metro, performing with with Red Planet, Framework, How Birds Work, Tall Tales, Bill Simenson Orchestra, Adam Meckler Orchestra, Leisure Valley, Fall of the House of Usher, Enormous Quartet (rebranded as Colossus), and many other cutting edge ensembles in addition to Atlantis. In the past few years he has stepped out front as leader of the Good Vibes Trio and Red Five, both of which released debut albums in the past three years. He recently launched the Inventions and Dimensions Trio with Joe Strachan and Matthew Buckner (now replaced by Miguel Hurtado after Buckner relocated out of state), and curates a monthly improvisation series at Jazz Central. Chris studied at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire and later with Anthony Cox, was an original member of the Motion Poets, and a 1999 McKnight Composer Fellow. He was one of four jazz artists to be awarded a composition commission from Zeitgeist, which was premiered at the 2014 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. This past year Chris served as a Visiting Artist at the University of Minnesota Morris.
Drummer Pete Hennig came to the Twin Cities to study at McNally Smith. After graduating he spent an additional three years studying with Dave King (Bad Plus, Happy Apple). His performance credits include Zacc Harris, Debbie Duncan, Katie Gearty, Sam Kuusisto, Tickle Fight, Patrick Harrison, Johnny Clueless, Park Evans, Monk in Motian, and the Fantastic Merlins, and he leads his own bluegrass band (Bluegrass Bandits). He appeared in duo with bassist Cody McKinney during the “Reich Fest” at the Icehouse last spring, honoring the music of the late Steven Reich.
JT’s Jazz Implosion (curated by JT Bates) may be the area’s longest running jazz series, initiated at the Turf Club about 20 years ago and at the Icehouse for the past five years–every Monday night. The Icehouse is located at 2528 Nicollet Ave in south Minneapolis; www.icehousempls.com