It’s not a stretch to declare Atlantis Quartet the best small jazz ensemble based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The four members have been together since 2006 while individually amassing the requisite set of merit badges, including grants, work in a bevy of other bands and side projects, and first-call status when a jazz luminary needs local support on tour. Their albums (Hello Human is their fifth) feature almost exclusively original compositions. When they perform covers, they have taken on entire records—from Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge to Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters to Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy—during live shows on Halloween.
On the surface, Hello Human is Atlantis Quartet’s most conservative outing, hewing closer to a postbop template than ever before. In reality, they’ve sacrificed a little stylistic breadth for more daring ensemble interplay. Variety comes from the apportionment of their original compositions: three apiece by guitarist Zacc Harris, drummer Pete Hennig, and bassist Chris Bates (who also tucks in a two-minute solo bass tune), with tenor saxophonist Brandon Wozniak laying out from writing duties this time.
Unison lines from guitar and tenor provide a sophisticated touch, distinctive harmonies, and a spacious environment. Harris, an avowed Wes Montgomery disciple, is versatile enough to sting like Carlos Santana, dig in like Barney Kessel, and glow like Stanley Jordan. Wozniak likewise can vary the mood, but shines most here via slippery note clusters reminiscent of Joshua Redman. The rhythm section of Hennig and Bates make themselves prominent without showing off. The tunes—AQ’s chief virtue—are typically stellar and get better on the back half, with Harris’ “Meridians” and “Ghost Tension” more ominous and texturally pliable, while Bates’ “Just Ate” and “The Slab” sound more carefree and open to group improvisation.
Atlantis Quartet could easily acquire a national following under the right set of circumstances. That their primary ambition is about the music is embedded in the consistent quality of their output. Hello Human reinforces that reputation.