(New Album Review) Sam Boshnack Quintet- Exploding Syndrome

I get a lot of enjoyment out of jazz, but I don’t always understand it. Here is a submission that will take many re-listens to properly appreciate (beyond simply enjoying it): a labor of love called Exploding Syndrome by Washington’s Sam Boshnack Quintet.

Seattle-based composer and trumpeter Samantha Boshnack has worked for many years as a co-leader for the jazz group Reptet and leader of the 14-piece chamber orchestra B’shnorkestra, in addition to collaborating extensively as a session musician. Sam Boshnack Quintet, formed in 2011, was Boshnack’s first turn as leader of a smaller jazz ensemble and this album is the band’s recording debut. This reviewer was honored with the opportunity not just to support a fine West Coast jazz act, but an acclaimed composer’s recording debut as a quintet bandleader, their first stab as director of proceedings for a smaller-scale jazz project, more or less. Sam Boshnack Quintet is Sam Boshnack on trumpet, Beth Fleenor on clarinet, Max Wood on drums, Isaac Castillo on upright bass, and Dawn Clement on keyboards.

Boshnack and her players are punchy and nimble. Overall, it is clear that Sam Boshnack Quintet is a project that is indeed influenced by the Third Stream style, but faintly, really. There is a fair amount of improvisation on this record. Boshnack has mentioned that she draws inspiration from Afro-Cuban jazz– that deceptively carefree rhythmic pattern is a strong force in this music, creating a tone that is sometimes playful, sometimes uneasy, almost grave. Take for instance, Castillo’s solemn riff about four and a half minutes into “Dormant” that the other players hover around with so much crazy energy. What does one call this kind of jazz? Interesting to behold, this much is for sure.

The performances are consistently on point and there is elegance to the checks and balances the band put on themselves– one of Fleenor’s stately solos will never be too far from one of Clement’s abrupt bursts on piano. Contrasting tracks like “Exploding Syndrome” and “Xi” with each other makes the album seemingly an exercise in how to balance antecedent playful chaos and consequent seriousness, a seriousness that, like a lot of chamber music and Third stream, sounds like the positing of a question. It’s pretty and engaging music that will definitely please serious fans of jazz (so, probably more serious than this reviewer…).

I really liked the gentle closer, “Ashcloud”. This is one of the modes of this band that I enjoyed a lot…there’s a bit of that restrained, “cool” feeling, tempered with a slightly uneasy modernity. Mystery and beautiful restraint. For all fans of chamber music, this is most certainly a must-listen.

Check out the band’s Bandcamp and, for my readers in Portland, here’s hoping I will see you on August 20th at Revival Drum Shop for Sam Boshnack Quintet’s west coast tour.

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