Atlanticus – new album ‘Upstream’ and tour 22 June-16 July

With founding members Terry Seabrook (organ) and Peter Fraize (tenor sax) hailing from each side of the pond, naming the band in honour of the ocean that both separates and connects them was an obvious choice. Since joined by Jack Kendon (trumpet & flumpet) and Milo Fell (drums), the titles of their debut album, Blue Haven, and latest release, Upstream, continue to embrace this aquatic theme. But their interest in the earth’s bodies of water runs much deeper than simple naming. With care and conservation for the planet and its precious water resource at its core, new 5-part multimedia suite ‘Oceanic has been premiering during the band’s summer tour. Leah Williams spoke to Seabrook and Fraize to find out more:

Atlanticus band all in a line looking at the camera
Atlanticus. Publicity photo

LondonJazz News: How do you work together, maintaining creativity and connectivity, as a transatlantic group?

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Terry Seabrook: We have a common vision and complementary styles, which was evident from our first musical meeting in 2016. Even when we’re not in the same place or getting the chance to play together, we compose and arrange pieces always with the band firmly in mind.

Peter Fraize: The Atlantic connects us but also separates us for a year or more at a time. Initially we each brought in our own material we thought would work well in this configuration, then adapted and refined it as the band’s sound took shape. Now, although we still tend to work on new compositions and arrangements in our own spaces, I have the band and its individual players specifically in mind. Even when selecting and adapting older material, it’s always stuff I can clearly imagine and can’t wait to hear Terry, Jack and Milo play!

LJN: How do you find time to record albums together with only short periods in the same country?

TS: We actually recorded both albums in a single day each at the end of touring. We find it works really well to capture all the vibe, excitement and groove of the group’s live performances after a period of playing extensively together.

PF: We’ll do the same again at the end of this tour and record the Oceanic suite, plus some other new material to hopefully release as an audio/video package next year.

Atlanticus tour poster showing dates with an ocean background and orange, white and blue text

LJN: Tell us about the Oceanic suite.

TS: As a member of Greenpeace, I’ve become interested in the important roles the oceans play in our planet. UNESCO has made 2021-2030 The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. This inspired me to conceive of a suite of music with video accompaniment portraying the Oceans and their wildlife, beauty, natural diversity, human impact and sustainability. It’s a 5-part suite with video as a backdrop featuring jazz based composition and improvisation. Hopefully, it will inspire our listeners to join in the quest to respect, protect and sustain the earth’s five Oceans. 

I wrote Parts 1,2 and 5 (Oceans/Diversity/Finale). Each part is original, although there is also an adaptation of the song “How Deep is The Ocean” at the end of Part 5. There are also slight references to “Dolphin Dance” and “Cantaloupe Island” by Hancock and Green Dolphin Street. The visual sequence of the suite opens and closes with the image of Brighton (West) Pier – which is the cover of our first album Blue Haven – so I also adapted Peter’s theme in Blue Haven into a more balladic melody which crops up in parts 1 and 5.

PF: Part 3 (Choices) is a contemplation of the choices of responsible use of the ocean as a resource and the dire consequences of misuse.

Part 4 (Impact) is a rumination on the state of the world we are leaving to our children and future generations. 

Atlanticus Upstream album cover ocean with waves

LJN: Is Upstream a continuation of the material you released on debut album Blue Haven or is it a new concept?

TS: It’s definitely a continuation and refinement of our sound as a band. This is our fourth tour together and we know and trust each other well by now, so that influences the type of material we introduce and how we compose/arrange for the group.

LJN: Sum up Upstream in one sentence to a new listener.

TS: Upstream is an all-original programme of tunes bringing the Hammond organ traditions to a modern sensibility with a wide range of grooves.

LJN: The organ is clearly a distinctive driving force behind the band’s sound. Who are your main inspirations, Terry? 

TS: There are so many. Larry Goldings, Larry Young and Joey DeFrancesco, Jimmy Smith, Ross Stanley, Alberto Marsico and Tony Monaco. But also as a pianist I’ve spent much time listening to Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Lyle Mays.

LJN: The title track “Upstream” opens the album – what message is it trying to convey?

TS: I wanted to create a sense of pushing against the current so it has a sort of edginess. This is suggested in the funky rhythm as well as the use of the diminished scale throughout the A section of the head, while the B section gives a relief from that with more suspended harmony and rhythm.

LJN: Another track that catches the eye is “The Mentalist” – what’s the story behind this title?

PF: Once I began composing, the vibe of the tune just brought to mind a noir/crime psychological thriller (huge fan of that genre!). Something with Robert Mitchum in 1940s Cuba that invariably culminates in a chase across the roof of a train, perhaps…

Atlanticus on stage performing
Atlanticus. Publicity photo

LJN: Tell us a bit more about a few of the other tracks from the album…

TS: With “Underway” I wanted to suggest a joyful sense of setting out on a journey (by sea) and so I used a choro type rhythm, a Brazilian groove with continuous offbeat chord, thus intimating forward motion.  

PF: “Triple Decker” is a literal description of the tune itself: three distinct blues riffs in three different keys played simultaneously. The solo form cycles through the three keys across the instruments. Like an imaginary triple decker bus, it’s always in danger of tipping over!

The final track on the album, “Rhythm Schtick”, incorporates the Go-Go groove of my hometown Washington DC, and is a “rhythm changes” tune (based on the chord structure of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”). Young kids perform in the streets on improvised drum kits of plastic buckets, traffic cones, etc. and it reverberates off the white marble walls of downtown. The droning dissonance of the reworked harmony and the colliding horn lines evoke the sound of other street musicians and the bustle of downtown all mashing together. 

LJN: What is your usual creative process for writing?

PF: I think of my creative process as “whole-body” – for the feet and butt, head, hands, and heart (dance/groove, intellect/concept, technique/challenge, and feeling/soul). Often the writing begins with and tilts towards one or more of the concepts, but never feels complete unless it incorporates all to some degree. I have a “shut up and write” mentality and the subject matter usually reveals itself somewhere in the process. Most of my tunes end up being reflections on people and events in my life.

TS: Once I’ve decided what needs to be written, I’ll get to the piano or organ and try out chord progressions alone or with melody. I start with manuscript, pencil, sharpener and eraser and scribble away making multiple revisions before scoring into Logic. I often carry a small Moleskine manuscript notebook around so I can jot down ideas on the fly when inspiration strikes out of the blue. 

I guess about 25% of what I write ends up getting used. And even then things can get altered or discarded in rehearsal. It’s one long editing process. And I’m always worried that something might have been subconsciously borrowed from someone else or even from my own previous stuff. I remember Carla Bley saying that we all have one song to write but create it in multiple variations. Maybe there is some sense in which that is true.

LJN: What can live audiences expect from your tour and what’s one thing you’d like them to take away? 

TS: Well a guy said to us after a gig this week – it’s great to hear something different. So I hope we can lift people and impart some energy and spirit. And of course we hope that our ‘Oceanic’ suite resonates with people’s concern for the future of Planet Earth as well as communicating our own sense of our vital connections to the Oceans. They will be invited to drum and sing along with the band. Also, glow-in-the-dark T-shirts..!

LJN: Any highlights from the tour so far?

TS: We’ve actually done a few primary school visits in the Sussex area as a kind of unofficial part of the tour, which have been good fun. We play sections of the Oceanic suite to the children and then do a workshop on jazz improvisation. It’s gone down really well! We had a wonderful definition of improvisation from one of the children, who said: “It’s when you forget how the song goes but try to make it sound OK.” That made us laugh.

LJN: Where do you see Atlanticus going next?

TS: We’re planning a reverse trip across the Atlantic, possibly this autumn, to do some gig dates in the Washington DC area where Peter lives. Also some further future tours of the UK and possibly some in Europe, as well as more recorded material being released.

Atlanticus are on tour with support from Arts Council England

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LINKS: Atlanticus tour dates and booking

Upstream on Bandcamp

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