Flat Land Soul Band

by Chris Bryson

Aaron Bartel is all about prairie grooves. As a multi-instrumentalist who is probably best known for his saxophone and horn arrangement abilities, Bartel has been honing his skills with big bands that bang out even bigger sound.

Bartel is trained in jazz, but his interests are continuously expanding. For a couple years Bartel’s Flat Land Soul Band has been playing cover songs in the realm of 60s and 70s soul, funk, and R&B, but now they’re ready to share some originals with the world.

With performing covers, the band wanted to work on specific things like dynamics and chord changes to tighten their playing. Bartel eventually started writing out his own mini-pieces that he would bring in to the band for rehearsals so they could work on one each week. After a while the pieces got more and more elaborate, until some of his bandmates suggested they record them.

“Eventually we had a full EP,” says Bartel. “Over last summer I made demos of those, charted everything out, then started rehearsing it, and in September we started recording.”

Eight out of the nine members of Flat Land Soul Band have studied jazz at the University of Manitoba, and the skill in their musicianship shows. Bartel also plays sax in local psych jazz rockers Apollo Suns. Flat Land Soul Band’s debut EP, Middle of Somewhere, sounds like a collection of songs that could only have been played by a group with a passion for the smooth grooves of 60s and 70s era funk, soul, and R&B, and a clear desire to make something new.

The Flat Land Soul Band has worked with four singers in that time, with the EP featuring Elizabeth Sadler on vocals, who gives their sound a distinct tone. When writing the EP, Bartel tailored songs with a particular vision for the vocals in mind, and when recording, he says it was important that Sadler understood what the lyrics meant and could relate to them. “We were bouncing back and forth lyric ideas and just making sure she really feels an emotional connection to the song,” says Bartel.

Bartel took jazz in high school and knew early on in life that he wanted to be a musician. When he was really young his parents went to the symphony and would enter into their sweepstakes, which used to include pianos as a part of their prizes. Bartel’s parents ended up winning one, which is the piano that he took lessons on when he was four years old, before he eventually went on to learn the other instruments that he’s become familiar with.

“A lot of the Flat Land tunes were written on that piano,” says Bartel, who mostly writes on piano and then transfers that to all the other instruments, because he says you can’t sing and play a melody at the same time with a saxophone (unless you’re Colin Stetson). “Then it passes the campfire test,” says Bartel, “you can play it anywhere.”

Writing and recording Middle of Somewhere was a new experience for Bartel, and because the band is all his friends from school, it has a special place in his heart. “I’m excited for it to be out. It’s been almost entirely all-consuming for like, I don’t know, eight to ten months at this point. It’s eating up my life so I’ll be glad to have it out,” says Bartel. “I’m pretty proud of it. I think for the knowledge and budget that we had it came out really well. It’s kind of pop but it’s also close enough to the 60s and 70s influence that it becomes its own thing.”

The Flat Land Soul Band will be releasing Middle of Somewhere on April 4 at The Good Will with support from Six-Foot Citrus and Big Heist Brass Band.

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