Sam Boshnack Quintet – Exploding Syndrome (2014)

From the same lively, progressive jazz scene in Seattle that’s brought us Paul Rucker, Cuong Vu and the various “tet” bands (Reptet, Triptet and Hardcoretet), Samantha “Sam” Boshnack is the fast-rising star of the bunch. This Bard-educated composer and trumpeter leads the 14-member B’shnorkestra and co-leads Reptet, both vehicles for her forward, eccentric and nuanced composing style.

Now, Boshnack has a new way to render her works. Introducing the Sam Boshnack Quintet, her small combo project with orchestral ambitions. Boshnack not only handed out a tall order to Beth Fleenor (clarinet, bass clarinet), Dawn Clement (piano, Wurlitzer, other keyboards), Isaac Castillo (upright bass) and Max Wood (drums, percussion) in interpreting her finely-tuned scores, but these guys and gals never played together before so they had to gel in a hurry.

Maybe that was just Boshnack’s way of creating sparks, and if the resultant Exploding Syndrome debut album is any indication, it was a clever tactic. On this disc, the band sounds huge, almost orchestral, but also lithe. You could almost say this is chamber jazz, but there’s too much modernity to honestly describe it that way.

Boshnack the Trumpet Player only rises up on a handful of occasions, like “Juba” and “Dormant”; she’s got a real brassy tone, like Dave Douglas with more vibrato, and that bolsters the character in her sound.

Her democratic leadership and advanced composing approach take the center stage most of the time, however. That aforementioned “Juba” shows how Boshnack is able to put together chunks of harmonic pieces like Henry Threadgill to create a coherent whole, and give every performer equally critical parts in making that happen. The quick-paced dynamism of “Juba” is contrasted by the measured, lumbering “Xi,” which nonetheless carries over Boshnack’s ability to piece together intricate parts.

There are many twists and turns three-part “Suite for Seattle’s Royal Court Movement,” and there isn’t a discernible thread that ties the three tracks together. But these are pieces that can only be conceived by someone with a intimate understanding of many music forms; Boshnack’s exposure ranges from Bach to Balkan. “Movement 3″ is a favorite, because it’s built around a clever, off-beat bass figure while the piano plays a complementing, contrapuntal pattern and the two horns state the theme together. It also contains appealing solo features by Clement and Castillo.

Boshnack’s randy side comes out fully on the title track. This schizo song gets off with a stuttering beat and a rock demeanor, Clement’s Wurlitzer resembling an electric guitar, but also punctuated by quiet solo piano moments. The song picks up steam again, culminating in some female Cookie Monster growling from Fleenor followed by a Mexican trumpet harmony. Yep, it’s a trip.

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Exploding Syndrome is set for release March 18, 2014 by Shnack Music.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.