AMN Reviews: Samantha Boshnack Quintet – Nellie Bly Project (2017; ARC)

Nellie Bly was a 19th-century investigative journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days and faked being insane to report on the outrageous conditions within an early asylum. Samantha Boshnack, modern day trumpeter, composer, and bandleader, has released this musical tribute to Bly as the sophomore effort of her quintet. In addition to Boshnack, the group features Beth Fleenor on clarinets, Alex Chadsey on piano and keys, Isaac Castillo on basses, and Max Wood on drums.

Boshnack’s approach is not unlike that of the quintet’s earlier work, Exploding Syndrome. That is, left of center modern jazz, with avant leanings but more composed than free. Particularly, Boshnack and Fleenor provide most of the leads, with Chadsey, Castillo, and Wood offering up an active rhythm section. These rhythms shift rapidly, rarely letting the listener settle in for more than a few moments. Though there are interludes in which the group’s output resembles mainstream jazz, the overall approach is that of a sound painting of Bly’s life and accomplishments. Each piece represents some aspect of Bly’s adventures or personality.

To that point, Boshnack, as well as two other vocalists and a voice actress, provide sung and spoken word renditions of Bly’s writings. Rather than distract, these infrequent efforts form a cohesive unit with the music, in that they are more “instrumental” in nature than most jazz singing. Not to mention that one can easily draw parallels between the iconoclasms of Bly and Boshnack. The overall result is an unusually compelling 35-minute suite that is strongly recommended.

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