Naomi Moon Siegel thinks of her new album, "Live at Earshot," as a bridge between two phases of her life.
The trombonist-composer was invited to record at the jazz festival in her former home base of Seattle in 2017, one year after she moved to Missoula.
Some of the songs originated either here, often inspired by ventures in the Rattlesnake Valley, or were in skeletal form before she relocated. The other half are from her 2016 album, "Shoebox View," a produced and arranged instrumental version of a singer-songwriter album, with some tunes inspired by travels to Costa Rica.
She recorded the set at Earshot because she wasn't sure when she'd be able to play with this particular band again, who audibly share her empathetic playing style, a facet that colors her Missoula concert series and workshop.
"When I hire players, I want them to bring the music off the page. I want them to bring their own voice. I do create space in the tunes for them to improvise, but then also with the written material for them to add their own inflection or character. All that kind of individuality is really important to me, while being juxtaposed with collective and communal creation and supporting each other," she said.
The members of her backing band are all Seattle players, including pianist-composer Wayne Horvitz, a nationally recognized artist who's called Siegel one of his most important collaborators.
The playing is tight and team-like, often pushing off into spaces where it wouldn't fit many people's notions of what traditional jazz sounds like. She's a fan of indie-rock, folk, world music, electronic and more. Siegel, who studied jazz at Oberlin Conservatory, likes to think of jazz as an approach that can be used to absorb other genres of music.
"The attitude of jazz that I really appreciate is this idea of always trying to push my edge, always looking for new influences, always listening to any style of music, and letting that seep into my blood and bone marrow, and the way that I approach music, and also listening to ambient sounds and environmental sounds, which has been so awesome in Missoula," she said.
She's grateful to have immersed herself in the African-American tradition. Those ideas about pocket, groove, interaction, and call-and-response remain as important to her as when she first heard jazz, and thought "'Oh, I can be myself. I can improvise and experiment while creating something bigger with a group of people,'" she said.
It's a feeling she's tried to recapture, especially during phases earlier in her life when she felt boxed in, musically, and needed to reconnect with her "own voice and the validity of that expression."
The album was recorded at the Poncho Concert Hall at Cornish College in Seattle during the annual Earshot.
In a meaningful note to her, she shared a bill at the venue with Julian Priester, a trombone player who teaches at the college and played on Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi albums. When she moved to Seattle, she initially just asked him about a potential lesson or a cup of coffee, but they ended up playing together regularly, everything from standards to free music. Through Priester, whom she called a generous mentor, she met another professor, Horvitz, who's worked with looming figures like John Zorn and Bill Frisell.
Horvitz plays on the Earshot album, along with some of their mutual and regular collaborators. Guitarist Sean Woolstenhulme has a background in rock, and it shows through in his tone. "Fortifying Love," a song written not long after the 2016 election, begins with a stark chord progression on piano and ambient guitar work. Siegel enters, running her horn through effects pedals. The group gradually ramps up to a crescendo that sounds more like post-rock led by a technically accomplished trombonist than a bebop group.
Woolstenhulme's love of pedals helps make Siegel's genre-less style of writing seem even more difficult to categorize — snippets of his guitar, with some twang, could be at home on a country or folk album. She said sometimes players in her groups have referred to a few bars of his music as "that Americana part," which surprised her.
Asked to list some of her favorite artists, she rattles off names of songwriters like Neko Case and M. Ward. She admires Horvitz, too, and his ear for editing down his harmonies when it suits the music, a sometimes rare trait in jazz.
Horvitz came to Montana last fall with his trio, and Siegel joined them for a short tour. "As a musician, she's just a blast," he said in an interview at the time. "She's very rhythmic. She's got great ideas. She's got a lot of chops but she doesn't play in the way that people do sometimes, where it's all about exhibiting their chops."
The Earshot group is rounded out by drummer Eric Eagle and bassist Geoff Harper. Their familiarity with each other is clear on the record. On tunes like "Punta Uva," she plays extended and gradually arcing solos over a wave of responsive, delicate and atmospheric backing.
Several songs feature Thione Diop on a flurry of percussion, like "Jeannine's Joy." Where the version on "Shoebox View" was carefully arranged, with trombone overdubs and synthesizers, the "Earshot" version is looser and free-ranging — it could fit in on a festival stage with a jam band.
She's played some of these songs in different formats — solo, duo, trio or even with a horn section. "Every player, every combination of players, lets it breathe and live in a new way," she said. In June, she'll play two Montana dates with Horvitz, Harper, Woolstenhulme, and drummer Chris Icasiano of Bad Luck.
In 2016, Siegel, moved from Seattle, where she was an active member of the music scene, with her own groups and myriad others of a wide variety of genres. She has family in Missoula, including a young niece, and wanted to be closer to nature. She lives in the Rattlesnake with her wife, and they can take walks from her back door rather than drive for miles to get out of the city.
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The career aspect was more of an experiment.
"I was just naive enough to actually make this move, because I've always been so curious. Can I push myself? Can I keep developing and growing as a creative musician and not live in a city, and instead live in a place where I can be so connected to being outside, to being with my family, to being with a tighter-knit community, and to having a slower pace?" she said.
She figured she could balance her own music while teaching and traveling out of state to play. She gets outside of Missoula multiple times a year, and is still exploring new territory, such as the thriving Denver music scene or meeting new collaborators in her regular areas like Seattle. She toured last month to Washington, Oregon and California.
Making a living as a musician in Missoula can be daunting, and Siegel soon found one element was lacking for performers who don't play bar-friendly music: venues.
She started a project called LakeBottom Sound, now a nonprofit, that wraps in many of her activities, the most prominent of which is the concert series.
She began booking acts who fall under the broad banner of "creative music," which could mean anything from singer-songwriters, avant-garde jazz, or uncategorizable things in between. They were deliberately diverse: local and national, women and LGBTQI performers.
The concept was to put music first, and pick places where audiences will in turn embrace "intentional listening" over socializing and alcohol. She sought venues outside of bars: Ten Spoon Winery, St. Anthony Church, Wave & Circuit, the Salvation Army Chapel, the Roxy Theater, Free Cycles and more. They have two more shows coming up to round out the second season.
"I feel really grateful for the community," she said. "Local business sponsors have been huge in making it possible, so that I can pay musicians a guaranteed rate and provide quality acoustics and sound experiences … and really treating musicians that way I think they should be treated and valuing them and showcasing them in a way that's meaningful and authentic, and not just, sort of, about the hype of concerts and music festival culture, where I feel the content sometimes gets lost."
She's proud that "intentional listening" has become a more common term around the music scene, whether at house shows or at KFGM Community Radio's Union Ballroom Sessions, where organizer Matt Olson arranges performances and interviews with local bands.
Another facet of LakeBottom is the Free Sessions. When she moved here, she noticed that there were creative musicians of all types, but there wasn't a regular point of contact to exchange ideas.
The sessions are held the first Sunday of every month at Imagine Nation Brewing Company. Each round, a different musician serves as curator — giving a presentation and then leading the musicians in improvisation exercises. It draws everyone from jazz players to UM students to people from country bands. It's all ages and skill levels, with a nonjudgmental atmosphere, and hasn't had trouble filling the brewery's community meeting space.
"We're doing our best to facilitate a place that is as safe as possible for as many different folks as possible while still asking people to experiment and be vulnerable and improvise and push their comfort zones," she said.
Some partnerships have grown out of the experiment, too.
"One of my favorite things I'm seeing happen is the ripple effect, where I'm seeing people collaborate outside of the Free Sessions with folks that they maybe first met or first heard" at Imagine Nation, she said.
She leads workshops, too, including one for the Missoula Conduction Orchestra. Based on a model created by the late composer/bandleader Butch Morris, conduction is a method of leading a large group in improvisation. It's a concept that's not at all common to Missoula, yet she's recruited interested musicians and performed at Jazzoula, where she said they had a good reception to a fresh idea.
Siegel is writing a record that she'll record in the fall — the first studio album of material written entirely in Montana. There will be more space for improvisation than "Shoebox," which was tightly arranged.
And she doesn't aim for specific sound when writing, either. Instead, her philosophy is, "I'm a product of my experiences of whatever I've listened to over the years, and that's going to come out with whatever comes out when I sit down and I'm writing," she said.
The centerpiece is "Broken Glass Sanctuary Suite," inspired by her move to Montana, the idea of "holding paradox," like maintaining connections while living in isolation; and mourning the life she left behind in Seattle and the experience of finding her way in Missoula.
In the meantime, she's working on balancing all of those activities and her own art.
"It's kind of an age-old struggle for a lot of creative people: How can I do that work and do the work I need to do to support myself, and create time and space to develop my craft, to compose more, to keep recording more, to develop as a player?" she said.