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.