Arts & Culture

Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt-Live in Santa Monica

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 and violinist Paris Hurley. 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 illustrate the wonders of the Ring of Fire. 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.”
Biography: Samantha Boshnack has toured extensively in the zany, postmodern Reptet and performed or recorded with such artists as Wayne Horvitz, Butch Morris, Eyvind Kang, Jessica Lurie, Bobby Previte, Amy Denio, Jim Black, David Byrne, Terry Riley, and Robin Holcomb.

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Artvoice

News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

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