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When Samantha Boshnack moved to Seattle from her native New York state in 2003, she quickly became fascinated by nearby Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. “I seem to be drawn to volcanoes,” the trumpeter and composer said during a recent telephone conversation. “Coming here was a real eye-opener.”
Boshnack eventually researched and explored the Pacific Rim volcanic regions of Hawaii, Mexico and Indonesia, learning that they form part of a horseshoe-shaped geographic region called the Ring of Fire, which contains a majority of the world’s volcanoes and experiences the great majority of its earthquakes. “There’s a lot of inspiration there for me,” she notes. Last year, supported by a Make Jazz Fellowship from Santa Monica, California’s 18th Street Arts Center, Boshnack composed a suite about the Ring of Fire and performed it with a Los Angeles-based septet (which she named Seismic Belt) during the fellowship’s three-month residency. Live in Santa Monica — her fifth album, released in March on Orenda Records — documents the work.
It’s dense and challenging music. While Boshnack’s sound generally leans avant-garde, the density on Live in Santa Monica is also a function of Seismic Belt’s instrumentation, which, in addition to Boshnack’s trumpet and flugelhorn, includes violin, viola, saxophones, piano, keyboards, bass and drums. “I have two other ensembles,” Boshnack explains. “One is a 14-piece chamber orchestra, with strings, and then I lead a quintet with piano. With this project I wanted to combine the two.”
It wasn’t ambition for its own sake, she adds: “I needed different layers to illustrate the Ring of Fire.” The layers included the Ring’s scientific complexities — as demonstrated by the compositions “Subduction Zone” and “Convection Current” — and its geocultural diversity. “I really like listening to music from different parts of the world and being inspired by that,” she says. Thus “Fuji” incorporates Japanese musical traditions; for “Summer That Never Came,” about a volcano-related tragedy that occurred in northern Alaska in 1783, she listened to Eskimo music; for “Kamchatka,” she listened to music from far eastern Russia, where the volcano-strewn Kamchatka Peninsula is located.
Boshnack is an accomplished trumpeter who, in addition to leading her own bands, plays with pianist-composer Wayne Horvitz, among others. Still, it’s composing she most enjoys. Recently she was accepted into classical pianist and composer Gabriel Lena Frank’s Creative Academy of Music, and is writing a work for string trio under that aegis.
“The experiment is to check out writing without improvisation,” she says. “But I haven’t written it yet, so maybe I’ll incorporate improvisation into it anyway. Composing that way is so rewarding. You can hand it off to someone and they can do their thing, and it can build up in ways that you never thought were possible. So I think I’m really a jazz composer in my heart.” —Michael J. West [caption id="attachment_17950" align="alignleft" width="1240"] Photo: Karen Sterling[/caption]
Featured photo by Daniel Sheehan