As if emerging from the watery depths concealing their legendary namesake, the Atlantis Quartet surface as a modern jazz band with impressive depth and unlimited potential with the release of their second album, Animal Progress. The group's advances since their 2007 debut, Again Too Soon, include the addition of Chris Bates (a first-call session bassist and vet of numerous eclectic local ensembles), saxophonist Brandon Wozniak shifting from tenor to alto (at least for this disc), honing their already impressive chops to an even finer edge, and tightening their compositional skills. The upshot is the full blossoming of a signature Atlantis sound that taps historic elements like swing, bop, and free jazz while referencing contemporary bits of funk, rock, and world music, then rolls it all into a cohesive bundle of kinetic energy with the visceral allure of intense fireworks and the intellectual challenge of multilayered complexity.
Drummer Pete Hennig's "Verge" kicks off Animal Progress with an aggressive outburst, Wozniak scrambling over a thunderous assault from Hennig and Bates before easing into a far more lyrical glide, sweet solos by Bates and guitarist Zacc Harris divided by a brief Wozniak eruption. But then Harris turns on the jets for a blistering, audacious dash into funk, joined by Hennig and eventually the rest of the band to round off a ferocious dose of fusion. Harris's "Meltdown" is even more tightly wound at first, beginning with taut flurries from Wozniak emphatically punctuated by the band, then opening into an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, traveling at a furious pace marked by rich, splendid solos from Harris and Bates while Hennig stokes the flames. "Look Out Your Window" is ostensibly a ballad, but the tempo encounters an intriguing succession of hiccups, and while Harris and Bates remain relatively stately, Wozniak builds up a major head of steam, abetted by the insistently restless Hennig. "Eastern Horizons" incorporates some Middle Eastern motifs, Wozniak playing the role of the adrenalin-fueled snake charmer, while Harris and Bates probe exotic shadows (Harris's guitar occasionally suggesting a sitar) and Hennig concocts a relentless jumble of blistering rhythmic patterns. And so it goes. Wozniak's "Ballad for Ray" has an elegiac, gospel feel. "Radio Games" is a bop romp, with Wozniak's sax particularly bright. "Shipwrecked" is a moody labyrinth. No piece is complacent; every one is in flux, constantly evolving, stretching and reshaping ideas as it goes, always alert for the next twist. Animal Progress concludes with "Bottles N Cans," a 21st-century blow session, full of jagged angles, barbs, and delicious abrasions played with the unbridled confidence that should take the Atlantis Quartet far. —Rick Mason
THE ATLANTIS QUARTET perform with the Chris Thomson Quartet on TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, in the Clown Lounge of the TURF CLUB; 651.647.0486