Sam Boshnack Quintet
Hailed as Emerging Artist of the Year by Earshot Jazz in 2012, Seattle-based composer/trumpeter Samantha Boshnack walks her own path. Whether blasting through the alternative sonic explorations of her 14-piece B'shnorkestra or fronting her own Quintet, Boshnack's compositional voice pulses with vitality. As the leader of these ensembles and an active member/contributing composer to various other ensembles, Boshnack is never lacking in inspiration. That chameleonic talent has placed her in the company of artists as diverse as Butch Morris, Eyvind Kang, Oliver Lake, Los Campesinos, Bobby Previte, David Byrne, Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster, Skerik, Wayne Horvitz, Robin Holcomb, Jherek Bischoff, Tom Varner, Sumi Tonooka, Jessica Lurie, Amy Denio, Dead Science, Joshua Kohl, Paul Kikuchi, Evan Flory Barnes, Paul Rucker, and Orkestar Zirkonium.
Boshnack was a child of jazz from the very beginning. Growing up, the genre was primary among the many in constant rotation in her household—that also included salsa. And so, after ingesting the prototypical diet of Miles, Dizzy, and Morgan, her love of spice eventually led her to contemporary innovators such as Lewis Barnes, Steven Bernstein, and Dave Douglas, along with a slew of Cuban soloists echoing from her childhood. The latter's sense of rhythm and penchant for "letting loose" have been her greatest inspiration, securing her position as one who plays comfortably outside the box of standard jazz. Experiences playing in other genres including salsa and Balkan music have been an exciting influence for Boshnack, who prefers to, in the words of heavy metallers, play it loud.
Educated at Bard College, where she studied jazz composition, Boshnack proved that not all roads lead to New York for the aspiring improviser. In search of something different, her wanderings ended in Seattle, where fate dropped her into the free jazz collective known as Monktail Creative Music Concern. After an ad hoc performance with MCMC, she knew she'd found her niche. Encouragement from local musicians and the welcoming nature of the scene made it a perfect fit, and Boshnack hasn't looked back. The decade since has found her active in a variety of musical and theatrical settings and has, more importantly, put her in contact with some phenomenal musicians in their own right. Most recently, her formation of the Sam Boshnack Quintet has included musicians who had never all worked together before. The results have been nothing short of explosive.
What better title, then, for her Quintet's debut album: Exploding Syndrome? Having recorded with her B'shnorkestra and, more extensively, with Reptet (a modern jazz sextet that she co-leads with multi-reedist/flutist Izaak Mills and drummer John Ewing), Boshnack is no stranger to the studio. Yet there is something emblematic about this latest record. It epitomizes the layering of her compositional style and speaks in tongues all its own.
Exploding Syndrome marks the first recording for the Sam Boshnack Quintet, which acts as another outlet for its leader's powerful compositions. Indeed, this all-Boshnack set is a veritable portrait of the trumpeter. Joined by clarinetist Beth Fleenor, pianist Dawn Clement, bassist Isaac Castillo, and drummer Max Wood, she brings the listener on a journey through vivid, inviting sounds. The Quintet grew organically out of her larger B'shnorkestra. Desiring a smaller pond in which to drop her thematic stones, it was the perfect vehicle to perform a new suite of music she wrote for the opening night of Seattle's jazz venue, The Royal Room. Wanting to continue with this instrumentation, she wrote five additional pieces in a flurry of inspiration, resulting in a cohesive program that begged to be recorded.
The "Suite for Seattle's Royal Court" is the album's heart and spans three movements. The first is deceptively delicate in its initial stirrings, unleashing as it does Boshnack's no-holds-barred trumpeting. Her prosody gleams with wisdom beyond her years and contrasts well with the poetry of the second movement, of which the freer grammar is refreshing and gives prime space for Clement to shine. The density of Clement's pianism complements Boshnack's punchy hits with finesse and fortitude. These combined with the darker harmonies of Fleenor's bass clarinet make this a standout. Bassist Castillo sets the tone of the third movement, which moves like a caravan across the desert: steady and with the sun on its back. Wistful subtleties abound. Clement's chromatic flair glistens anew with microtonal harmonies, setting off complex denouements from the rhythm section.
The whole album, one might say, plays like one long suite, the divisions of which reveal Boshnack's playfulness and sense of humor before one hears a single note. Two tunes—"Juba" and "Xi"—derive their titles from Scrabble games and speak to the improvisational language Boshnack has honed over the years into a signature sound. For opener "Juba, " a jovial, headstrong beat from drummer Wood sets off soaring, clarion crosstalk between Boshnack and Fleenor. The emerging groove sets a robust tone and shows a band that can swing with great confidence. "Xi, " on the other hand, is a tender piece with deep personal undercurrents: proof that band and leader are capable of not only treading water, but also of diving below the surface. The album concludes with a triptych of decidedly volcanic theme. Here each player's quirks are given space to be ignited, moving from the groovy developments of "Dormant, " through the title track (truly a meta-statement for the band), and on to the somber farewell of "Ashcloud." Boshnack concludes with her most soulful playing yet. Tender and sincere, it blusters with a song-like quality while retaining the edge it has shown to this point. Backed by some transcendent support, she leads to a strong, melodic finish.
Boshnack never flaunts her role as bandleader, opting for a democratic approach to soloing and group texture. When she does peak, it is always with purpose, and purpose is what Exploding Syndrome has in spades.
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