Drive two hours due north from the northeastern corner of Montana, and you’ll find yourself in Regina, capital city of Saskatchewan. In the heart of the Canadian prairies, this province has seen the birth of some of Canada’s most successful jazz musicians: players who have helped define the Canadian jazz style through their work both at home and overseas. The Regina Jazz Society’s Saskatchewan Suite combines the history of a beautiful Canadian province with the exceptional talent of the musicians that call it their home. The performance is captured in an immersive DVD/CD combo package, double vinyl edition, and digital album.
Through this project, the Society seeks to communicate the beauty of Saskatchewan in the vernacular of jazz, by offering a live recording of a commissioned work by one of Canada’s most talented composers, Fred Stride. The concert in question was recorded at Casino Regina on December 28, 2019, and it featured many local and expatriate musicians of the province in a truly special performance of Stride’s composition. It was an evening that allowed a fantastic group of artists to tell Saskatchewan’s story through music for the first time.
The group of musicians on stage that night was one of the most impressive gatherings of talent in Saskatchewan’s history, and resulted in a caliber of performance unlikely to be replicated anytime soon. These were the players who grew up here, got their musical start here, and were then exported to every corner of the globe to share their craft. They were joined by other players who came here to live, teach, and perform because Saskatchewan affords them that grand opportunity.
Stride’s ingenious compositional style seems made for a piece like this. He proves himself able to establish any desired musical setting by painting atmospheric landscapes of sound, and then populating these scenes with rich instrumental characterizations that carry the narrative forward. Particularly noticeable is his treatment of the horn section, which belies his joy in working with the sonic possibilities provided by a big band. He layers the instruments into rich sonorities that form everything from dense, uncertain clusters to open, triumphant harmonies that support the more climactic moments in the work.
The composer’s ability to draw on different effects at will and move between them in seamless and surprising ways results in many of the piece’s highlights, and this emotional range makes for engaging storytelling. Add to this the ear-catching melodies that interact to summon moments of conflict and harmony, and we’re left with a rich tapestry of musical narrative that eloquently communicates Saskatchewan’s history.
Stride’s capacity to not only create his own style but also mimic others is put on full display in the final movement of the suite, which uses the chords of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” as a vehicle to explore the evolution of jazz from Scott Joplin all the way to Miles Davis. Of course, not all the genius is Stride’s alone. The array of solo talent present in this ensemble is brought to bear with great effect throughout, and each player certainly has his day in the sun, with the freedom and support to produce some truly astonishing moments.
The stories that Stride’s suite tells are the stories of everyone living here and all those that have gone before us. It is more than 150 years of narrative threads, weaving the canvas of our history since the days when Saskatchewan was ruled by the thundering hooves of the buffalo. It tells the story of how people arrived here. You will hear the train whistle bringing all the various settlers and immigrants to the province. It tells of the initial clash of cultures, followed by the important journey toward inclusiveness that has culminated in our society today. It tells the story of the seasons. You will hear the biting sounds of winter, the fierce wind howling at you over the brittle crunch of snow underfoot. You will also hear the soft, carefree nights of summer, with their cool refreshing breeze and an orchestra of frogs croaking, crickets chirping, and songbirds singing sweet lullabies.
Over the course of this suite, you’ll hear that Saskatchewan folk are farmers, businesspeople, potash workers, railroaders, hockey players, storytellers, writers, artists, and soldiers marching off to war. We are all the Saskatchewan story, and that is what Saskatchewan Suite is all about. This is the most novel, ambitious, progressive, and challenging project in the history of the Regina Jazz Society, and they are thrilled at the opportunity to share it with the world.
This article is sponsored by Chronograph Records.