Wednesday, May 29, 2019

CD Review: Samantha Boshnack's Seismic Belt - Live in Santa Monica

Samantha Boshnack's Seismic Belt
Live in Santa Monica

Trumpeter Samantha Boshnack hails from rural New York, but after studying at Bard College, she made her way to the Pacific Northwest where Seattle has been her home base for the past 15 years. She has received several commissions and residency spots, and has worked with Wayne Horvitz (himself a Northwest resident), drummer Jim Black and the late Butch Morris, to name just a few collaborators. She has also lead groups of varying sizes. B'shnorkestra is a 14-piece orchestral ensemble, while the Sam Boshnack Quintet toys with more avant-garde jazz. 

Seismic Belt represents Boshnack's attempt to combine both of these stylistic qualities in one group. Along with a piano-bass-drums rhythm section, it features the leader's trumpet in the company of a  saxophonist alternating on baritone and tenor, and two string players. The music, commissioned by the California-based 18th Street Art Center's Make a Jazz Fellowship (and sponsored by the Herb Alpert Foundation), is inspired by the Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped region around the Pacific populated with most of the world's volcanoes and which experiences 90% of the world's earthquakes. 

Like the multiple layers of the earth's strata, the music has several interlocking parts. Drummer Dan Schnelle and bassist Nashir Janmohamed hold down complex ostinatos, occasionally joined by pianist Paul Cornish when he isn't moving with the rest of the group or adding another counterpoint. 

Lauren Elizabeth Baba (violin, viola) and Paris Hurley (violin) add a frequently eerie, uncertain quality to the music, which Boshnack matches with a tone that expresses the inquisitive feeling that inspired this song cycle. She favors the warm, middle range of her horn, never getting overly animated except during "Churo." Baba and Hurley take care of that, often following the trumpeter with solos that get more frantic. Saxophonist Ryan Parrish also kicks up dust on tracks like "The Summer That Never Came" where Hurley picks up further on the idea.

Although the melodies provide the main focus on the album - and Boshnack reels off solos like the one in "Subduction Zone" that feels like an elaborate thought - the rhythm section sounds comparably subdued, at least on the recording. Schnelle offers a strong solo on that same track, but too often he and Janmohamed settle into the background, offering support but not really driving the music. The approach means that the dynamics on several tracks and don't provide enough to distinguish them from one another. The closing "Submarine Volcano" makes a break, with a call and response section between Cornish and the rest of the band, followed by a strong Parrish solo on tenor. But if the group had kicked the energy up a notch earlier, it would have elevated Boshnack's writing even further. 

No comments: