It was January in Minnesota and a blizzard was coming down in full force. But while the air outside was cold, the atmosphere inside Pachyderm Recording Studio was warm as modern jazz group Atlantis Quartet recorded their new album, Hello Human, which was just released today.
Having been a band for 12 years, Atlantis Quartet are one of the most well-respected jazz groups in the Twin Cities — but, as in any relationship, being together as a band for so long has not been without challenges. After releasing a new album every other year for the first four albums and rehearsing multiple times a week, the members of the band were beginning to feel a little burnt out. On top of it all, three of the four members became fathers for the first time, adding parenthood to the list of responsibilities on all of their minds.
After a few years off from producing an album, the quartet were ready to record Hello Human in January. They had planned to record at Pachyderm Recording Studio, but what they didn’t know was that once they got there, they would be basically snowed in for the weekend. With a house on the property, the band stayed at the studio while they recorded the album and not being able to go anywhere gave them the chance they needed to reconnect as bandmates and as friends.
“Pachyderm was a good choice for that. It just allowed us to hang and, you know, eat together,” bassist Chris Bates said. “The energy of, ‘Oh yeah, Chris is cooking tacos’ and everyone else is just hanging out or helping and everyone’s relaxing with just the four of us. They’ve never seen me cook meals before, it’s just not something that happens. Occasionally we do that sort of thing, but it just doesn’t happen as much, just having a normal life with your friends.”
Although the band released their digital anthology, X, in 2016, Hello Human will be the first official album Atlantis Quartet have released since Expansion in 2013. In 2015 the band received a grant from the McKnight Foundation to record the album, but they weren’t ready to start working on it right away. The trip to Pachyderm came after a break the band took, where each of the members had a chance to reflect on the work they’ve done together and whether or not they wanted to continue with it.
“There was a time when we were rehearsing at least once a week and trying to push the music as hard as we could and playing as much as we possibly could and also making sure we were putting out a record at least every other year. After doing that for four records, each record is expensive and time-consuming and kind of stressful to get out there,” saxophonist Brandon Wozniak said. “Having that break after those four records was really good for everyone to sit back and decide if this was really something they wanted to continue doing. I know I myself had doubts about how long I wanted to stay in the group. I’m a person who is has always thrived on progression and I stopped hearing a certain kind of progression in my own playing or in my own approach to the music where I was afraid I was becoming stale.”
Looking back, Wozniak said he noticed that the stressors they faced together and in their own lives influenced the way they treated each other and that the material they were bringing in to rehearsals tended to be more individually focused. But since then, he’s noticed that becoming parents has helped all of the group members communicate better and have more patience with each other.
“All of these guys I’m happy to say are great fathers who really love their kids and take time to nurture those relationships. Doing that, it forces you to re-evaluate all your relationships, how you listen to people and the time you take to try and be a little bit more open and understanding,” Wozniak said. “I think that’s where we are as a band and when you listen to the record you can hear that a little bit. It may not be as fiery as some of the other records we’ve put out but I just think that’s where we are and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
That willingness to be more opening and understanding of each other has even changed the way each musician writes for Atlantis Quartet. Before, the members of the band were just bringing in any tunes that they had written and liked for the band to play, but now they’re more specific about writing tunes for Atlantis Quartet and are thinking of each other while they write, something drummer Pete Henning has seen change in himself.
“When I used to write music I didn’t really have any particular ensemble in mind, it was just writing notes that sound good to me and not really having any agenda,” Henning said. “I write with those specific people in mind. It took me a long time to realize that a saxophonist needs to breathe (laughs) and I should leave some space in my melody so Brandon can actually play this thing and not be upset with me. So that’s one thing. And everyone has their own unique voice and I try to think about that when I’m composing for the group.”
Now that Hello Human is out, Atlantis Quartet are planning on keeping things going. The band are having a release show for the album on Nov. 23 at Vieux Carre and there’s talk of a possible tour, something they haven’t been able to do in a while.
“Sometimes I miss just being with the guys, which I think is part of our concept behind the album and behind the recording session that we did. We’re calling it Hello Human, which is the title of one of Chris’ songs on the record and I think that it kind of functions on several different levels conceptually,” guitarist Zacc Harris said. “One is that we went through this period of welcoming these new humans to the world and our families, but also when we did this recording session what we wanted to do was kind of get away from everything for a little bit. So it was on that level too. The album title is just as everyone gets busy and as the world seems to get more complicated and busy, just taking that time to connect with the people that are right there in front of you.”
Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.