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MUSIC | Zacc Harris of the Atlantis Quartet on jazz, leaving wiggle room, and the future of the Clown Lounge
For wild and crazy jazz that is all that—from the swinging to the serene, missing nothing in between—put your last money, honey, on Atlantis Quartet. Their complex switch time signatures will, smooth as a con job, mold and sculpt melodic figures with audacious invention and, in general, leave you wondering whether it's actually legal to be that hellified.
The band is Brandon Wozniak (sax), Zacc Harris (guitar), Chris Bates (bass), and Pete Henning (drums). Their 2007 debut Again, Too Soon vaulted Atlantis Quartet straightaway to prominence on the Twin Cities circuit. In a relative blink of an eye (considering how long it takes groups to get anywhere all), they've become a national act and have released the virtually hypnotic tour de force Animal Progress. The band is known for their annual performances of classic albums like John Coltrane's A Love Supreme in 2008, Herbie Hancock's Headhunters in 2009 and Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy last year. Should be interesting, indeed, to see what they come up with for 2011.
The weekend before their upcoming return to the Artists' Quarter, Zacc Harris, after an early evening Sunday night gig, then a late night gig back-to-back, answered several interview questions by e-mail.
What're you guys been doing nationally?
So far, we haven't gotten out on the road that much. It's a lot tougher to do these days, between the economy, high gas prices, and the state of the music industry. We did a short tour down to Illinois and Missouri a couple of years ago that went well. This April, we'll be going out on the road for a week or so, with dates in Madison, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New York City on the books so far. We have received some nice reviews from national magazines though, like Bill Milkowski's in JazzTimes.
How was it doing the weekly gig at Turf Club? With it re-opening, will the band be back there on a regular basis?
The Clown Lounge gig was really great for Atlantis Quartet. In December 2009, the room expanded from just Mondays to Tuesday jazz as well, and Atlantis was essentially the Tuesday regular act, playing three times a month typically. That much time performing together really makes a difference, especially with some of our material which is complex and involved. Now all of our music has a more liberated quality because we know the tunes and each other so well. We have explored the places we used to go with those tunes so much that we can't help but take the music to new corners now. It's a real shame that the Clown Lounge has been shut down, especially Fat Kids on Mondays, which was a real pillar of the creative music scene in this town. It does not look like the Clown will be opening back up for jazz.
The group has stayed together since its inception. Not easy to do.
It has been a while. Fall of 2006 is when we started. The only member change has been on bass with Chris joining in 2008. You are right, keeping a jazz group together is difficult to do, especially keeping it working and growing. There are a number of groups in town that have been together for many years, but only perform a few times a year and continue to play the same material. The point of Atlantis Quartet is to exploit the power and possibilities of four musicians working together as a collective on a regular basis. We have at least one new composition every show we do. For these Artists' Quarter shows, we'll be debuting three or four new compositions. Because of the time and commitment we have given this band, the music, and each other, we are able to do things with the music that a pickup band just couldn't do. It's a real joy and honor to be able to have a project like this.
Everybody else hogged all the songwriting for Animal Progress and only let Chris Bates contribute one cut? Didn't he eat all his spinach at dinner?
Ha! Chris writes in bursts. He only had one tune for us. For [the] record. at the time. He's been eating his spinach lately, and we'll be doing a couple new ones by him this weekend.
I've always found it interesting that rock bands and such can take for practically ever to do an album. Jazz cats always seem to just get in there, hit it and quit it.
Jazz albums typically are recorded live or with very little overdubbing. This usually means that it's roughly mixed already just from tracking, plus jazz musicians are typically go about playing with dynamics, et cetera, and the music is improvised, so there's more wiggle room for what gets laid down. Animal Progress took two days of tracking and two or three days of mixing. That was a little long, actually. We've all done some records in a day.
You guys did this one in two days at the Terrarium in Minneapolis. Any real difference for you, personally, between getting up on stage to do a set and going in the studio to record?
The Terrarium is great. My favorite studio in town that I've used so far. Jason is a fantastic engineer, and his rock experience and aesthetic was really great for the material on Animal Progress. We'll definitely be working with them again.
What's next for Atlantis Quartet?
Well, we're doing a tour out to the east coast in April, thinking about our next album, possibly a live recording, and hoping to get out on the road a little more this year, maybe even overseas. Hopefully, we'll continue to grow musically and play more often, in more places, and for more audiences.
The Atlantis Quartet plays at the Artists' Quarter, 408 St. Peter Street in St. Paul, Friday, February 4, 2011 at 9:00 p.m (two sets), and Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 9:00 p.m. (two sets). $10 at the Door. For more information: artistsquarter.com or 651-292-1359.
©2011 Dwight Hobbes