Sam Boshnak Quintet - Nellie Bly Project

Label/Year: ARC, 2017

Lineup – Sam Boshnak: trumpet, vocals; Beth Fleenor: clarinets; Alex Chadsey: piano, keyboards; Isaac Castillo: acoustic and electric bass; Max Wood: drums.


Following up the 2014 album Exploding Syndrome, Seattle-based trumpeter Sam Boshnak reunites her stalwart quintet: Beth Fleenor on clarinets, Alex Chadsey on piano and keyboards (replacing Dawn Clement), Isaac Castillo on acoustic and electric basses, Max Wood on drums - and delivers Nellie Bly Project, a 4-track album that navigates on explorative waters of the avant-garde genre while portraying the title character, a 19th-century American journalist and feminist known for her record-breaking trip around the world in 72 days.

Boshnak’s “Expositions” tears into a puissant rhythm and groove after an intriguing introduction featuring the deep tones of bass clarinet, which, together with bowed bass reinforces the foundation’s compactness with a swaggering stance. Rather intelligible than sprinting, the trumpet solo that follows, momentarily complemented with clarinet punctuations, leads to a bridge that breaks down with a vocalized ostinato interlude, obsessively iterate by the guest vocalists Valerie Holt and Anne Mathews. The structure is maintained through a bass pedal and rockish drumming, while piano melodies echo along. The tune has its consummation with an extemporized keyboard endeavor, melodically supported by the horns voice leading.

The following tune, “After One Is In Trouble”, is mounted by stumbling and contrasting dualities claimed by bass clarinet and trumpet as they operate together. Shifting tempos and rhythms are natural consequences of the infinite search for expansion, transcendence, and resolution. After the individual statement by Wood, who works on a clockwise hi-hat demonstration at the same time that explores tom-tom timbres, the band goes into a dazzling avant-garde tract that ends up in an abandonment of bowed bass and piano.

72 Days” wields a challenging bass groove throughout the first section, adorned with a vocalized ostinato and free trumpet trajectories atop. Piano trills are just a small part of the great work developed by Chadsey, who cleverly infuses a sort of spirituality in the harmonic sequences to exalt and stun. Vocals take over the second section, and we find Boshnak uttering Bly’s words in multiple layers - "I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time". The organist, operating behind Fleenor’s passionate solo, intermittently repeats the associated melody. For the triumphant finale, the first section is retrieved and intensified by fluttering horn stamps and decisive percussion maneuvers.

The record ends with “Legacy”, another magnetic experimentation that will certainly be appreciated by the fans of Dave Douglas’ compositional style and formidable instrumentation. 

Whether functioning in spacious or dense areas, Nellie Bly Project vibrates with raw musicality and airs a remarkable honesty in its endeavor to capture Bly’s spirit.

        Grade  A-

        Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - After One Is In Trouble ► 03 - 72 Days