Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt – Live in Santa Monica – Orenda 

by | Jun 10, 2019 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt – Live in Santa Monica – [TrackList follows] – Orenda 0059, 68:29 [3/15/19] ****:

Trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer Samantha Boshnack’s Seismic Belt is a conceptual jazz group which debuted with a commissioned project and a subsequent live album about geology, specifically the earthquakes and volcanoes which encircle the Pacific Rim in the Ring of Fire (sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt or Seismic Belt), a horseshoe-shaped region which stretches from Peru up to Alaska, then from Japan down through the Philippines and into New Zealand. Boshnack has resided in Seattle for 15 years and has studied the geological environment where she lives, hikes and traverses. With a slight bit of karma, Boshnack’s ideas became a musical reality as the 2018 recipient of the 18th Street Arts Center’s esteemed Make Jazz Fellowship in Santa Monica, a city in the Los Angeles basin, an area beset by quakes (but fortunately not volcanoes).

The 68-minute, eight-track Live in Santa Monica “examines our relationship with the Earth,” Boshnack states in the CD liner notes, “including the elements of risk and faith in that uneasy cohabitation.” Boshnack’s original compositions meld emotional and scientific components with geographical and environmental thoughts into a broad instrumental canvas brought to life by Boshnack and her ensemble, Seismic Belt, which also includes Ryan Parrish on tenor and baritone saxophones (Parrish was raised in Seattle; and is now part of the Los Angeles music community); violinist Paris Hurley (credits include singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer and associated musicians); violinist/violist Lauren Elizabeth Baba (lots of LA film and theatrical work); pianist Paul Cornish (who has played with saxophonists Steve Lehman and David Binney); bassist Nashir Janmohamed (whose non-jazz pursuits involve space technology); and drummer Dan Schnelle (he has performed with pianist Josh Nelson, guitarist Anthony Wilson and more).

Boshnack’s live record was taped on April 13, 2018 at the Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences, Roth Hall, in Santa Monica (near Los Angeles) and issued a year later. The septet commences with the detailed and intricate, 10:30 “Subduction Zone,” which refers to a geological process which occurs at convergent boundaries of tectonic plates: principally, the zone along the Ring of Fire. During “Subduction Zone,” Boshnack’s harmonies bump and merge in interesting ways, and soloists and different septet members intermingle and interact. Boshnack returns to similar geographical terrain on the jazz-slanted, 9:22 “Tectonic Plates,” which concerns two sublayers of the Earth’s crust (or lithosphere) that move, float and sometimes fracture, causing continental drift, earthquakes, volcanic activity and oceanic trenches. “Tectonic Plates” has an edgy jazz chamber music approach, where Boshnack’s main theme is abetted by solos—Cornish’s extended piano improvisation is noteworthy—and exchanges between the players, which ebb and rise and attempt to echo the geological connections among the levels of the Earth’s shell.

Specific geographical spots are highlighted in other pieces. The shortest cut, the upbeat and positive 5:48 “Kamchatka,” was influenced by the large peninsula in the Russian Far East which contains over 150 active volcanoes. Despite the volatile aspects of the tune’s title, “Kamchatka” has a sublime movement peppered with intriguing time signatures and a slight sense of Asian inspirations accentuated by the violin, viola and trumpet. The seven-minute “Choro” is an homage to Peru, which is inundated with many volcanoes. Here, Boshnack supplies a tricky arrangement which hints at Latin music allusions. The arrangement mirrors a choro’s nature, who is a person considered brave, graceful and daring. The longest track, the 11-minute “Fuji,” reverberates the project’s theme of devastation which can transpire in beautiful settings, in this case the famed Japanese mountain which has been depicted in Japanese poems, music, literature and art. “Fuji” has the album’s most supple harmonies and heartfelt melodies, with a poetically-tinted arrangement which includes a wonderous bass solo, imagistic strings and nods to Japanese traditional music. The tune’s second half is raucous and somewhat dissonant, with a din which is supposed to partially incline towards Japan’s vaunted noise-rock music, although the screeching strings, fast-paced drums and bass, and cascading notes don’t quite get that explosive. The performance concludes with the almost eight-minute “Submarine Volcano,” which focuses on the 2009 West Mata eruption, the deepest ocean eruption ever discovered. The arrangement has a nice, chamber jazz style with back-and-forth instances, which suggest the traditional choral legacy of the Samoan territory near the West Mata volcano. Boshnack believes her concept could be a catalyst for newer work. “I feel a lot more music could be written about the Ring of Fire,” she clarifies. “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.”

Performing Artists:
Samantha Boshnack – trumpet, flugelhorn; Ryan Parrish – tenor and baritone saxophone; Paris Hurley – violin; Lauren Elizabeth Baba – violin, viola; Paul Cornish – piano, keyboard; Nashir Janmohamed – upright bass; Dan Schnelle – drums

Subduction Zone
Tectonic Plates
Summer that Never Came
Convection Current
Submarine Volcano

—Doug Simpson


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