Seattle-based trumpeter Samantha Boshnack draws creative inspiration from the Earth’s most dramatic displays of power on Seismic Belt: Live in Santa Monica (Orenda Records), her latest release and fifth album as a composer. Fascinated by the Ring of Fire, the span of volcanoes that hem the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, Boshnack set out to compose musical allegories for the grand seismic movements that have sculpted the Earth’s surface into landscapes of astonishing—and at times terrifying—beauty.

 Assiduously researched, Boshnack’s compositions allude to the disruptive force of earthquakes and volcanoes not only through sonic interpretations of geological phenomena (shifting tectonic plates on “Subduction Zone” and flowing lava on “Convection Current”), but through the exploration of musical traditions native to cultures along the Pacific Rim (the Russian Far East influences on “Kamchatka” and the Somoan choral sounds on “Submarine Volcano”). She carefully avoids mere aural representations here, though, and instead uses meticulously crafted post-bop composition to contemplate destruction from an artistic remove. Given the topic under discussion, her pieces are surprisingly balanced as she weighs structure against improvisation, dissonance against consonance, and soloist against the group dynamic.

 Boshnak worked on the album, commissioned by the Herb Alpert Foundation, during an artist’s residency last year at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California, which served as a vibrant crucible for her new pieces. To help her exact the desired textures and chroma for each, she constellated a new ensemble to cover the distance that lies between her avant garde quintet and her symphonic large group B’shnorkestra: a standard rhythm section brightened with horns and tempered with strings. The ensemble finesses Boshnak’s experimental motifs, subtle Latin grooves, and contrasting temperatures fluently, even during sudden changes in compositional direction—at times the group synergy is so disarmingly serene that it’s easy to miss the fire burning underneath. 

 Tracks: Subduction Zone; Kamchatka; Tectonic Plates; Summer That Never Came; Convection Current; Choro; Fuji; Submarine Volcano. [1:06:40]

 Personnel: Samantha Boshnack, trumpet, compositions; Ryan Parrish, tenor and baritone saxophones; Paris Hurley, violin; Lauren Elizabeth Baba, viola; Paul Cornish, piano; Nashir Janmohamed, double bass; Dan Schnelle, drums.

(Reprinted from the May 2019 issue of Downbeat magazine.)