Far Out, Close In

Sam Boshnack thrives in Seattle’s adventurous jazz scene.

Jazz is by nature a mercurial art form, springboarding across generations of tradition while subsuming the musical vocabulary of the moment. Jazz musicians—the good ones, at least—are equally fluid and curious. In the Age of iTunes, purism has no place on the bandstand.

This multilingualism can be alienating, intimidating, like the tongues of the Pentecostals. But some musicians leverage it into accessibility, weaving multiple entry points from their myriad influences. Seattle, less steeped in structure and history than other cities, is especially open to the sort of miscegenation that leads to new sounds. Which is one reason why trumpet player Samantha Boshnack thrives here.

“Seattle is just not that strict,” Boshnack says. “As a trumpet player, I’m doing my project—jazz and salsa and Balkan music. I’m doing rock and pop. Free jazz. You can kind of dip your horn into anything you want to. I think it’s good for musicians. I learn so much more about different kinds of music and it bleeds into my writing and playing.”

As both a player and a composer, Boshnack gets around. Helming her B’Shnorkestra, which employs 14 of the leading musicians in Seattle, she released her first studio full-length last year. The album was a heady, evocative mix of Mexicali jazz and gypsy swing that marked Boshnack’s emergence into Seattle’s burgeoning community of new-music composers.

The Sam Boshnack Quintet is a tighter version of B’Shnorkestra, condensing some of the same players and Boshnack’s compositions into more intimate, piano-lead arrangements. Boshnack debuted the Quintet in 2011 for the opening of the Royal Room and has convened it for special occasions, like the Frye’s Moment Magnitude exhibition last year.

This month, the Quintet releases its first LP, Exploding Syndrome. In a satisfying full circle, Boshnack and company return to the Royal Room, their birthplace, to celebrate the album’s release. For them, the Columbia City venue offers more than a stage on which to play.

“It feels like a second home,” Boshnack says of the Royal Room. “It’s a great addition to the Seattle scene in terms of a place to workshop and premiere things.”

Perhaps due to the Quintet’s smaller scale, the songs on Explosion Syndrome don’t range as far afield as those played by Boshnack’s B’Shnorkestra. They traverse a span of emotions, from doleful ballad to simmering groove, rather than exploring eclectic instrumentation. The album hinges on a three-movement piece called “Suite for Seattle’s Royal Court,” its title suggesting a dignified nickname for this Royal Room-oriented ensemble. The music bursts with color during the course of the suite’s 20 exhilarating minutes. Boshnack’s trumpet sallies with Beth Fleenor’s clarinet, Dawn Clement understates her elegant piano and provides occasional electric filigree with Wurlitzer while drummer Max Wood and bassist Isaac Castillo walk a subtly shifting rhythmic foundation.

Opening for the Quintet at the Royal Room is Julian Priester, a veteran trombonist who played with giants like Sun Ra, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Priester’s 1974 album Love, Love stands as a fusion classic; tonight the 78-year-old Cornish instructor leads his quartet for a new live recording.

“It’s a special occasion when he plays in Seattle,” Boshnack says.

The Sam Boshnack Quintet with Priester's Cue plays the Royal Room on March 21. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

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