The trumpeter and composer Samantha Boshnack isn’t a geologist by trade, but she certainly thinks a lot about earthquakes and volcanoes. Over the past 15 years, while living in her adopted hometown of Seattle, Boshnack has hiked the environs of Washington’s Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens with a kind of unnerved fascination. During her travels in places like Mexico and Indonesia, she’s made a point to visit the storied volcanic sites. Throughout her journeys, a couple of questions have persisted: What causes these astounding landscapes and events, and how are they all connected? And how can these vistas be so unspeakably beautiful yet also harbor such a profound potential for catastrophe?
Boshnack’s inquiries led her to an exhaustive study of the Ring of Fire, the horseshoe-shaped region surrounding the Pacific that contains the majority of the world’s volcanoes and experiences about 90 percent of its earthquakes. Her answers, from the purely emotional to the surprisingly scientific, can be found on Live in Santa Monica, the new Orenda Records release by Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt. With Boshnack on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ryan Parrish on tenor and baritone saxophones, Paul Cornish on piano, Nashir Janmohamed on double bass and Dan Schnelle on drums, Seismic Belt is given added dimension through string players Lauren Elizabeth Baba, who solos on viola on track one and violin on tracks two and five, and violinist Paris Hurley, who solos on tracks four, six and seven. It’s the ideal ensemble to tackle these vital, sometimes volatile compositions, and it allows Boshnack to explore the median between the charms of her two primary vehicles as a bandleader up to this point— the 14-piece B’shnorkestra, with its touches of symphonic grandeur, and the small-group avant-jazz dynamism of the Sam Boshnack Quintet.
Boshnack’s eight labyrinthine works are filled with creative allegories, and Seismic Belt uses textures and strategies from both experimental chamber music and the bop-rooted jazz avant-garde to conjure up these natural marvels. Her research also comprised the cultures inhabiting the various locales within the Ring, and Boshnack’s unit interprets these world-music facets in rousing ways.
Live in Santa Monica “examines our relationship with the Earth,” Boshnack writes in her liner notes, “including the elements of risk and faith in that uneasy cohabitation.” With some serendipity, Boshnack’s visionary new project was birthed in a town of many fault lines, Los Angeles. As the 2018 recipient of the 18th Street Arts Center’s prestigious Make Jazz Fellowship, an honor sponsored by the Herb Alpert Foundation, Boshnack was able to work on her commissioned piece within an engaging, multidisciplinary arts community over a three-month period (or, rather, a community within a community, as Boshnack also became immersed in L.A.’s jazz, improv and arts scenes during her stay). The 18th Street Arts Center lists among the top 20 artist-residency programs in the U.S., and the alumni of the Make Jazz Fellowship stand as some of improvised music’s most important young artists, including trumpeter Marquis Hill, cellist Tomeka Reid and saxophonist Matana Roberts.
To say that Boshnack took her commission seriously would be a gross understatement; in fact, few composers have been as committed to the musical expression of an extramusical concept as she is to illustrating the wonders of the Ring of Fire. In “Subduction Zone,” Boshnack’s harmonies collide and coalesce like tectonic plates. “Kamchatka” takes its name from the volcano-saturated peninsula of the Russian Far East, and its music draws upon the traditions of the region’s indigenous people. On the clever “Tectonic Plates,” Boshnack adds ideas above, below and against the main motif, to mirror the interactions among the different levels of the Earth’s shell, or lithosphere. “Summer That Never Came” delves into the cataclysmic eruption that occurred in southern Iceland during June 1783, which created the volcanic chain known today as Laki. The resultant ash and sulfur wreaked havoc throughout Europe, Japan and America, and on the northern tip of Alaska, the polluted air blocked the sun to devastating effect. The composition’s first section takes cues from Icelandic music and aims to embody the frenzy of an eruption; later, with influence culled from Eskimo songs, it shifts into a doleful reflection on tragedy. Propelled by tour de force solos from Parrish and Cornish, “Convection Current” imagines the movement of molten rock within the earth and then outside of it, as lava.
“Choro” is an homage to exceedingly volcanic Chile and an opportunity for Boshnack to tap into her considerable experience in Latin groups. The title is a Chilean word referring to a bold person who is at once daring and graceful, and the gallant music, with its intimations of cueca chora, cueca brava and bolero styles, follows suit. “Fuji” reiterates the project’s overarching theme of beauty and destruction emanating from the same source; with insight gleaned from a quote by the legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, Boshnack melds the peaceful harmonies and soulful dissonances of traditional Japanese music with the tumult that defines some of the country’s more contemporary output, like its fertile noise-rock scene. Eighty percent of the planet’s volcanic eruptions occur underwater, and “Submarine Volcano” homes in on one such event, the West Mata volcano of 2009, the deepest ocean eruption ever found. Cornish’s piano engages in call-and-response with the ensemble, in the image of the rich choral heritage of nearby Samoa.
Boshnack sees Seismic Belt as an ongoing project whose concept could easily spark new work. “I feel a lot more music could be written about the Ring in Fire,” she explains. “There are so many more places that are affected, and I want to find out more about the myths and stories and coping methods by those who’ve lived in these places.”
releases March 15, 2019
Samantha Boshnack – Trumpet, Flugelhorn; Compositions
Ryan Parrish – Tenor and Baritone Saxophones
Paris Hurley – Violin
Lauren Elizabeth Baba – Viola & Violin
Paul Cornish – Piano
Nashir Janmohamed – Double Bass
Dan Schnelle – Drums
Commissioned and premiered at 18th Street Arts Center, California
Recorded at Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences, Roth Hall, Santa Monica, CA, on April 13, 2018
Daniel Jimenez Afanador – Recording Engineer, Live Engineer
Harry Rabin – Assistant Engineer
Jacob Walker – Assistant Engineer
Mixed by Evan Schiller at zulusound, Seattle, WA
Mastered by Ed Brooks at Resonant Mastering, Seattle, WA
Cover Image: The sun illuminates ash from the Calbuco volcano in Chile on April 22, 2015, © Alex Vidal Brecas
Album design by Anne Mathews
Special thanks to Stella Rossi, Mark Boshnack, Daniel Rosenboom, Chris Credit, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the fabulous folks at 18th Street Arts Center, and the incredible musicians who leapt into the fire with me.
All music composed by Samantha Boshnack
© Shnack Music, ASCAP
ORENDA RECORDS 0059
I’m honored to have been selected as a Composer Fellow in the Gabriela Lena Frank Academy of Music. In 2019 I will be working with Gabriela, attending residencies along with the other fellows in Boonville, CA, and composing and premiering a string trio for Just a Trio. For more information, please visit:
Music commissioned by Chamber Music America New Jazz Works program with generous support from the Doris Duke Foundation.
4 stars “a mesmerizing combination of chamber jazz, symphonic music, modern jazz and big band…the sound of the full ensemble is beautiful and powerful…you’ll love it all.”—Bob Protzman, DownBeat
“The picturesque music evolves as it progresses…subtle, tasteful, and thoughtful…”—Scott Yanow, Jazz Artistry Now
“…a stellar work of art…a beautiful and entertaining aural excursion.”—D. Glenn Daniels, The Jazz Page
The concert features Alchemy Sound Project members pianist Sumi Tonooka, saxophonist Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, Salim Washington on woodwinds, and bassist David Arend, along with trombonist Willem De Koch and guest drummer Victor Lewis.
In 2018 Alchemy Sound Project released their 2nd CD
Erica Lindsay – tenor saxophone
Samantha Boshnack – trumpet, flugelhorn
Salim Washington – tenor saxophone,
alto flute, bass clarinet
Sumi Tonooka – piano
David Arend – double bass
Jonathan Blake – drums, percussion
Michael Spearman – trombone
Album art: Peggy Gyulai
A collective of five forward-thinking composer-performers traversing the borders between the composed and the improvised, Alchemy Sound Project creates and performs groundbreaking new work that combines elements of jazz, world music and modern chamber music. The group – which is diverse in age, ethnicity and gender – has released two critically acclaimed recordings: Further Explorations which earned the band a place on DownBeat Magazine’s Best Albums of 2016 list and their 2018 release Adventures in Time and Space, which has been heralded as “mesmerizing…wholly recommended” by Mike Greenblatt in The Aquarian.
The five core members of Alchemy Sound Project were initially brought together by the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, a program of the American Composers Orchestra and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University that encourages jazz composers to explore writing music for symphony orchestra. Saxophonist Lindsay attended the first JCOI session in 2010; at her encouragement, both Tonooka (a frequent collaborator) and trumpet player Boshnack (a former student of Lindsay’s at Bard College) enrolled in the second round in 2012. There, Tonooka and Boshnack met and bonded with bassist Arend and multi-reedist Washington.
Samantha Boshnack: Seismic Belt
Friday October 12, 7:30pm
The Royal Room, 5000 Rainier Ave S., Seattle
$20 adults, $18 Earshot members and seniors, $10 students and military.
Ticket link, Facebook Event
This eight-movement work is an exploration of seismic activity along the Ring of Fire through musical composition, experimenting with the friction of geographic shifts to create a new harmonic topography. The music examines our relationship with the earth we live on, and the element of risk and faith in that uneasy cohabitation. Movements of the work draw on influences and stories from some of the cultures and people living on the Ring in places such as Chile, Japan, Alaska, Western Samoa, and Russia.
Photos by Emma Wang, courtesy of 18th Street Arts Center.
Boshnack’s love of hiking the peaks of the Pacific Northwest, combined with travels to other areas located on the Ring sparked her fascination with volcanoes, and the cultures that surround them. As with her other recent projects, this work leads the listener into a storied landscape projected as musical narrative. In 2017, she released “Nellie Bly Project” which illustrated the 19th-century daredevil/feminist/journalist’s heroic life. In 2016, her desire to celebrate individual expression and virtuosity of musicians outside of Western classical music prompted her to compose “Global Concertos” – which explored the sounds of five continents, performed with a representative musical ambassador from each.
Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt Live in Santa Monica will be released in March 2019 on Orenda Records!
On Wednesday, June 27 Boshnack will be unveiling a new duo project at Seattle’s underground music venue – Substation. Featuring Marina Albero (Wurlitzer, keyboard, cajon) and herself (trumpet) they will be exploring Boshnack’s compositions in a most intimate and experimental way. The event starts at 8 p.m. and also features sets by Michael Owcharuk, Shawn Smith and Kathy Moore. Boshnack/Albero will play at 9 pm. Facebook Event