“In reality, the music of Alchemy Sound Project is much better heard than described since a great deal takes place in a subtle, tasteful, and thoughtful manner. The music, which is never obvious, is easy to enjoy and recommended.”
Samantha Boshnack is more than a musician and composer. She is a storyteller who walks us through the history of things. With Nellie Bly Project, she tells the story of daredevil journalist, writer, and feminist Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (1864-1922), known by her pen name, Nellie Bly. The compositions, a four movement suite, are like a journey through the history of the struggles of women throughout American history, a struggle that continues today, and that Boshnack describes as a daily part of her existence. “Feminism is a big issue for me, it’s sort of part of my daily existence, because it’s the struggle. With Nellie Bly Project, I just thought she was such an amazing force in getting things done, when everything was against her.” Boshnack utilized a theme of cultural unity in her last project, the brilliant Global Concertos(ARC, 2016), with her ensemble B’shnorkestra, and has emerged as more than a composer, and trumpeter. Her vision of cultural and sociological unity and justice has established her as a narrative artist with a voice that needs to be heard. “I respect artists, and anybody in the public eye who can come out really strong and say all sorts of things and then take all sorts of abuse. Anybody who says anything gets a lot of attack. I try my best, but I definitely respect those who will really go out on a limb. Global Concertos and Nellie Bly Project were ways to have these activist ideas, but in a subtle way. I think sometimes if it’s subtle, you can get through,” she states.
“Energy, rightly applied, can accomplish anything” —Nellie Bly
Innocent, unaffected, and frank. These are the words used by Bly to define a “true” woman. In the opening movement of the album, “Expositions,” Boshnack delves into the energy and inspiration that fueled Bly’s activism, in a time when a woman journalist was relegated to topics deemed gender appropriate. After a brief melodic repose to the begin the movement, bassist Isaac Castillo, and drummer Max Wood provide a rollicking groove, underpinned by the keyboard of Alex Chadsey, demonstrating what is to be a recurring theme throughout the album. After progressing to a brief interlude from Wood, Bly’s words, and quotes are used both in a narrative sense, and in the case of this opening movement, in a melodic sense, with vocalists Valerie Holt and Anne Mathews singing in a mantra like chant, “Energy rightly applied, can accomplish anything.” Boshnack has the unique ability to join the worlds of classical composition, and free improvisation, into a sound that views diametric opposites as strengths, and creates a cohesive narrative voice to express a story, to enable a journey. She uses her trumpet and compositional prowess to create a prose that is perhaps more comparable in form to Whitman and Neruda, than to Miles and Diz. Her narrative pieces are like free verse poetry, with angular melodies, unexpected stops, and abstract poetic cadences, that are ultimately impressionistic and expressive. Without this understanding by the listener, along with knowledge of the social narrative expressed, gaining insight and appreciation for this work may be difficult to attain.
“It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there is in the world.” —Nellie Bly
The second movement, “After One Is In Trouble,” is an homage to Bly’s undercover assignment in 1887, to expose the brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell Island. Working for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World, Bly feigned insanity to gain entrance to the asylum, and experience the horror, the abuse of this institution first hand. Her work, later published in book form, brought on major change in how the city of New York defined, diagnosed, and treated insanity. The piece begins with an intertwining melody for Boshnack’s trumpet and the clarinet of Beth Fleenor. It is like a solemn march, ever so slightly increasing in pace and volume, that ends in a pulsing percussive heartbeat supplied by Wood. It is if she has arrived at the asylum, awaiting entrance.
“They were being driven to a prison, through no fault of their own, in all probability for life. In comparison, how much easier it would be to walk to the gallows than to this tomb of living horrors.” —Nellie Bly
A sparse melody, intricate bass line, and Woods’ pulsing rhythm conjures images of a growing madness, as if walking down a hallway through the 19th century asylum, Bly seeing the faces of mad sadness, peering in each doorway and becoming overcome with fear and despair. Chadsey’s keyboard distant rant, then walking bass line picks up the pace, heart racing, body numb, the cold concrete and tile walls reflecting the crying and muttering of pain and anguish, and finally, a release. One can then imagine the music as a survivor’s last chance, of holding on to one last shred of beauty before descending into the abyss of institutional madness, an impulse of hope, renewal, escape, the perception of freedom and joy.
“It’s Only a Matter of twenty eight thousand miles I shall be back again.” —Nellie Bly
The album’s third movement, “72 Days,” depicts Bly’s successful attempt to defeat Jules Verne’s fictional record of “Around the World in 80 days.” Starting with a chanting like vocal and trumpet line stating the above quote, the musical narrative expresses clearly the rhythm of the two modes of transport available to her in this time-railroad and steamship. Chadsey tops off the statement with both written and improvised sections, the latter displaying his stellar playing that is truly evident throughout the recording.
“I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.” —Nellie Bly
This quote is weaved into a mantra like chanting, and beautiful harmonic passage, leading to a meandering, dynamic clarinet solo from Fleenor. Her beautiful tone, and passages that display lightning fast runs, intertwined with vibrato accented long tones, conjures peaceful and joyfully energetic images, imagining a vibrant positivity. To Bly, the huge undertaking required her to be undaunted, to exude the confidence that she would succeed, while the world watched, and hoped.
“Is it possible for us to struggle and overcome fate, or are we merely being swept along a course which all our efforts fail to alter or change?” —Nellie Bly
The fourth movement, “Legacy,” is Boshnack’s homage and tribute to Bly. It illustrates the remarkable impact Bly has had on modern feminism, nearly a century since her passing, and in particular, how this legacy has drawn such a creative and important work from an artist such as Boshnack. The movement as well presents this quintet as one that has worked extensively with Boshnack, bringing out the nuances of this musical statement with conviction and emotion. The quintet expresses an understanding, and commits to a partnership with the artist to such an extent as to create images that have enduring social impact, within a musical context.
Boshnack, both within ensemble playing, and skillful soloing, offers her best playing to date on trumpet, supported strongly by Castillo, Chadsey and Wood. Fleenor, a musical constant in Boshnack’s work in Seattle, plays with unconventional prowess, drawing musical, poetic, and social parallels with the composing artist. The final movement ends on a haunting solo trumpet phrase, that like so many of Boshnack’s pieces, leaves the listener out on the edge, dauntingly lacking finality. It expresses that while much has been accomplished by the feminist movement since the passing of Bly, there is still so much work left to be done. Women still must work twice as hard to gain recognition and attain success, including in the music world. The social narrative to achieve gender equity, is still a story being told loudly, and clearly. The struggle continues, with the courageous activism of Nellie Bly still serving as a beacon of inspiration and persistence to modern “daredevil” artists such as Boshnack. Her ability to create a narrative musically, and truly educate and inspire the listener is rare, and important. It’s part of what makes music a language that unites cultures, and empowers justice.
Track Listing: Expositions; After One Is In Trouble; 72 Days; Legacy.
Personnel: Samantha Boshnack: trumpet, vocals; Beth Fleenor: clarinet, bass clarinet; Alex Chadsey: piano, keyboards; Isaac Castillo: bass; Max Wood: drums; Valerie Holt: vocals (tracks 1&3); Anne Mathews: vocals (tracks 1 & 3); Anne Whitfield: spoken vocals (tracks 2 & 4).
Editor’s note: This content is courtesy of KNKX. Listen to the original streaming program HERE.
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Growing up in upstate New York, you might expect a young jazz talent to head for the Big Apple, the legendary “jazz center of the world,” but trumpeter Samantha Boshnack came to Seattle. She’ll tell you it was a great decision.
Sam is a dedicated composer as well as a player, and she told us about working with her large ensemble, the B’shnorchestra, that working with those she admires as players and people is what she loves about jazz.
Live in the KNKX studios, it was obvious that her band loves playing her music with her.
Complex, multi-faceted movements are her specialty, and after three extended tunes, our studio audience felt like we’d been on an epic journey. One word that kept coming up was “cinematic,” and one piece – “Seventy-Two Days” from her soon-to-be-released Nellie Bly Project album – sounded like a short film about the dynamic journalist, inventor and daredevil feminist from a century ago.
Alongside Beth Fleenor on clarinet, bass clarinet and vocals, this session was another reminder of the wealth of female jazz talent in the Northwest. These are world-class musicians who are sure to produce and inspire generations of talented young jazz women, in the Seattle area and beyond.
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Ranked as one of the most popular public radio stations in the nation, KNKX has been serving the Puget Sound Region with the very best in jazz, blues and NPR news since 1966.
Broadcasting from both Seattle and Tacoma and covering the Puget Sound Region as a whole. We pride ourselves on being the region’s leading source of jazz, blues, and in-depth local and national news, available 24 hours a day online, on your phone and on your radio.
We also provide a full-time streaming jazz service Jazz24. Broadcasting around the world, Jazz24 reaches a worldwide audience and further spreads the American music genre of jazz to new and old listeners alike.
We look to provide more than broadcasting in the traditional sense and are broadening the content of KNKX to include all forms of media to better serve you, our listener and friend.
We are pleased to announce a soon to be released recording of the new work by composer Samantha Boshnack – inspired by the life of daredevil, feminist, journalist & iconoclast Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922). A live premiere of the work was presented in concert in 2014.
FROM THE COMPOSER
SAM BOSHNACK QUINTET
Sam Boshnack | trumpet & compositions
Beth Fleenor | clarinets & voice
Dawn Clement | piano & keyboards
Isaac Castillo | bass
Max Wood | drums
A WORK OF FOUR MOVEMENTS
I. Expositions – This movement is about looking at Nellie’s fiery and spirited, yet persistent and intelligent personality. I have incorporated Bly quotes as lyrics here – “Energy rightly applied can accomplish anything.” At the age of 20 she responded to an extremely misogynistic article entitled ‘What Girls Are Good For’ in the Pittsburgh Dispatch. This letter impressed the editor and he requested in his column for the writer to come forward. The next day she showed up in person at the newspaper’s office and managed to push her way into a career in journalism. Her only education had been one term of boarding school. Bly went to on to be regarded by her contemporaries as “the best reporter in America.” In one of her stories Bly defined a “true woman” as- “Innocent, unaffected and frank.” These were definitely three virtues she liked to project- she committed her life to causes she believed were important even though those around her were constantly trying to “put her in her place” and make her cover topics deemed more suitable for her gender.
II. After One is In Trouble – this movement is about Nellie Bly’s Madhouse exposé. In 1887, Bly had talked her way into the office of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she feigned insanity and investigated reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She was committed there for 10 days, experiencing atrocious conditions and putting herself in grave danger. Her reports (which were later published in book form) brought her lasting fame and caused major changes in how the City of New York cared for and diagnosed insanity. When she described her attempts to get committed she said – “It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world.” She began her “lunatic” role-playing at a working class boarding house. Only one woman cared about her and tried to help her. After just one night, the police were summoned to take her away to the courthouse. The judge had her examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane.
III. 72 Days – is based on Nellie Bly’s book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, in which she set out on a race around the world to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record, while the whole world watched and cheered her on. The idea for this story was hers, but she had to fight hard to make it happen because her editors did not believe it could be done. The two telling quotes I extracted from her book are – “It’s only a matter of 28,000 miles… I shall be back again” and “I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.” Once again we see Nellie being unaffected by the immense task before her and with an absolute conviction that she would succeed. The two methods of transport available to her were railroad and steamship – I have incorporated the rhythmic elements of these modes into the music as well.
VIDEO – The Nellie Bly Project: Movement 1 – Expositions
Wayward Music Series
Chapel Performance Space
Live Premiere Performance – May 9, 2014
Audio recording engineer – Robb Kunz
Video editing – Brianna Atwell
Video by Latona Arts
This concert was made possible thanks to the generous support of 4culture
Alchemy Sound Project is a collective of composer/performers whose music is a synthesis of jazz and modern chamber music. While the group’s configuration and roots serve as a continuation of the jazz tradition, the members also compose orchestral works, film scores, chamber music and solo pieces for various ensembles and projects across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia. Music education, support for the arts and expansion of cultural self-awareness and empowerment are important themes for this group.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist Erica Lindsay is an Artist-in-Residence at Bard College, NY where she teaches jazz music theory, arranging and composition. Lindsay performs with numerous ensembles at Bard, often featuring her own compositions and arrangements. The Da Capo Chamber Players performed Erica’s chamber work Further Explorations in 2015.
Erica has performed and recorded with such artists as Bob Braye, Rufus Reid, Lewis Nash, Baikida Carroll, Oliver Lake, Pheeroan akLaff, Art Blakey Jazz Messengers (with Jimmy Cobb), Howard Johnson, Frank Zappa, Melba Liston, McCoy Tyner and Clifford Jordon among many others.
Lindsay’s orchestral piece Inner Dialogue was read by the American Composers Orchestra in 2011. Her piece for drum set and orchestra, Mantra, was performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2014.
[See more at artist website]
In addition to symphonic, chamber works and jazz compositions, pianist Sumi Tonooka has composed over twenty film scores, including the Academy Award-nominated Family Gathering by Lise Yasui and Daring To Resist by Martha Lubell. Her most recent film score is a 2014 documentary on jazz great Mary Lou Williams, Lady Who Swings the Band by Carol Bash.
Sumi recently received the Music Alive: New Partnerships residency with The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra through New Music USA to take place in November 2015. The residency will culminate with a premiere of her symphonic work Full Circle and a new work for woodwind quintet.
[See more at artist website]
Multi-instrumentalist Salim Washington is a Professor of Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa where he teaches jazz music theory, arranging and composition. Washington held a tenured professorship at Brooklyn College, NY before making the move to Durban. He felt drawn by South Africa’s complex political evolution and is highly active in promoting broader African social and political issues. The presence of strong jazz musicians in South Africa is the icing on the cake.
Washington has worked with jazz visionaries such as Fred Ho, with whom Salim played in contexts such as the Afro-Asian Music Ensemble. In 2012 they started the Scientific Soul Sessions, described by Salim as “a collective for revolutionaries to build a soulful and scientific community.” Washington is renowned for his use of art to inform politics and vice versa.
[See more at artist website]
Double bassist David Arend is a freelance artist who moves easily across classical, jazz, electronic, avant garde and singer/songwriter contexts. A longtime member of the Oakland Symphony, Arend has worked with the San Francisco Symphony, Carlos Santana, Bobby McFerrin, Ornette Coleman and George Crumb.
Arend’s compositions filter his broad influences into forms ranging from jazz, orchestral, chamber and solo works to electro-acoustic projects and collaboration with DJs. David premiered his Sequoia Sempervirens for double bass and orchestra with the San Francisco Academy Orchestra under Andrei Gorbatenko in 2010. David premiered his double concerto Voyager: Three Sheets to the Wind with Philharmonia Northwest under Julia Tai in 2013. Both pieces were recorded with the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra (Czech Republic) for release by Navona Records/Naxos.
[See more at artist website]
Trumpeter Samantha Boshnack has helped to anchor the Seattle, WA modern jazz scene under a variety of guises. As a bandleader, Boshnack performs her compositions with B’Shnorkestra and the Samantha Boshnack Quintet, and as co-leader with Reptet.
As a collaborator, Boshnack has worked on a wide scope of projects with artists such as Butch Morris, Eyvind Kang, Oliver Lake, Los Campesinos, Bobby Previte, David Byrne, Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster, Skerik and Wayne Horvitz.
A featured artist in the Frye Art Museum’s Moment Magnitude exhibit showcasing exceptional artistic practice in Seattle and one of 16 artists selected for an Artist Trust Fellowship, Boshnack was named Emerging Artist of the Year by Earshot Jazz in 2012.
[See more at artist website]
The debut recording by Alchemy Sound Project includes two special guests:
Willem de Koch
Forthcoming Release Title and Description
Alchemy Sound Project – Further Explorations – AUDIO CD
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ARC Catalog Number:
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Track Listing and ISRC numbers
1. Charcoal, Clear, Beautiful All Over | ISRC#US7DZ1500901
2. Further Explorations | ISRC#US7DZ1500902
3. Alchemical | ISRC#US7DZ1500903
4. Waiting | ISRC#US7DZ1500904
5. Beta | ISRC#US7DZ1500905
6. Her Name Is Love | ISRC#US7DZ1500906
7. Archetype | ISRC#US7DZ1500907
8. Divergency | ISRC#US7DZ1500908
9. Joie de Vivre | ISRC#US7DZ1500909
10. The Call | ISRC#US7DZ1500910
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