Twin brothers Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf are inveterate musical searchers. Already well-grounded in the complex harmonies and shifting time signatures of contemporary post-bop, both musicians have continued to expand their musical palette, incorporating sounds and ideas from hip-hop, electronic, and classical traditions alike.
This Tuesday, August 4th, the Le Boeuf brothers return to The Jazz Gallery—one of their musical homes in New York—for a concert to celebrate their 29th birthdays. Remy and Pascal were kind enough to answer some questions about their show and recent projects via email.
The Jazz Gallery: Could you both give a few words about the project you’re bringing to The Jazz Gallery on August 4th?
Pascal Le Boeuf: We wanted to celebrate our 29th birthday by putting together a show with some of our friends and frequent collaborators. Both Linda and Peter are touring members of Le Boeuf Brothers and together we have developed an extensive repertoire over the years. The Jazz Gallery and its surrounding community have been a home to us since we moved to New York in 2004: The warmth and support radiating from this wonderful establishment made it a perfect venue to host our birthday concert. We are looking forward to a fun show that we expect will be just as much as a party as a performance.
TJG: How did you start working with Donny McCaslin, Linda Oh, and Peter Kronreif?
PL: We first met Linda briefly when we were kids at the 2004 IAJE conference in NY where we were being honored as fellows in various programs supported by IAJE, the National Foundation for Advancement in the ARTS (now YoungARTS) and the ASCAP Foundation. We later worked with her more extensively at the Banff Centre’s workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, then run by Dave Douglas. When Linda moved to New York we began playing shows and touring shortly after.
Remy Le Boeuf: Peter has toured with us for years and will be featured on our upcoming album, Imaginist. I first met him through a mutual friend at a jam session in Harlem in 2010. I was shocked by how well we played off of each other; wherever I went musically, Peter was right there with me. Wherever he went musically was a place I also wanted to explore. Peter joined us that Summer for a tour in California and Canada and we have been bandmates and close friends ever since.
PL: Donny is from our hometown of Santa Cruz, CA so we have always experienced a sort of kinship. He was also among the first to expand our quartet into a quintet back in 2006 when we performed a Monday night concert at the newly-formed Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.
RL: I love playing with Donny. Earlier this Summer I performed with Donny’s saxophone quartet at Chamber Music America’s Bryant Park series. He writes great music, he’s a beast on the saxophone, and he’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.
TJG: Pascal, you’ve written that “As an artist, I see my responsibility to humanity as that of a diver, charged with the task of swimming deep within the mind, beneath the surface of reality, to retrieve something beautiful, undiscovered or interesting to share with the real world.” How does this exploratory mission more concretely extend into the realms of composition and improvisation?
PL: This is a metaphor for the creative process. I have found the most rewarding experiences in both composing and group improvising to be those in which I/we are able to channel inward thoughts or feelings through the music. This is very personal but very meaningful in the moment. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve shared some vulnerability with the audience and the other musicians and the result is that almost magic closeness, that sense that we’ve all just shared a secret.
TJG: As far as I understand it, “Pascal’s triangle” describes a sort of sequence of numbers, increasing and expanding on the outside as they continuously add up on the inside. Are there any mathematical or conceptual underpinnings to the new album?
PL: Pascal’s Triangle was a happy accident. Originally meant to be an electronic crossover album, we decided to release only the acoustic recorded material and a few casual takes we recorded towards the end of the session. We’re still sitting on a ton of recorded material for the electronic crossover project such as Justin’s “W.A.I.T.T.” video. Hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to release these tracks in the years to come.
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TJG: On Pascal’s Triangle, the opening track (“Home In Strange Places”) is sensitive and curious, making Justin’s entrance on drums feel so monumental. How do you approach balance and structure when composing, especially in such a textural piece?
PL: I remember studying literature with Dr. Sarah Whittier before moving to New York; we read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and studied literary techniques such as symbolism, imagery, allegory, motifs and contrast. I have often though of music (particularly improvised music) through the lens of language and have found that many of these devices can be utilized in composing. It’s like telling a story with only associative emotions and no literal content.
TJG: “Variations of a Mood” features layers or stacks or swirling, heavy rhythmic work. From where do you draw inspiration in the world of rhythm?
PL: I like to joke that 7 is the new 4; 5 is the new 3. I’ve always enjoyed listening to music that plays with time, that is why I like to work with Justin and Peter. They have a certain freedom of expression, a fluidity that is not limited to conventional rhythms. I like to think there is a melodic aspect to linear rhythmic development – quickly transitioning through various metric modulations (like the way Dan Weiss might improvise) feels like a melodic arc. Two rhythms that fit together over the course of a few beats feel like harmony. Actually, if you ever try playing consonant intervals on an old loop based sampler, you’ll find that they create consonant polyrhythms when the beginnings of each sample line up against each other. “Variations On A Mood” was actually based on an arrangement I constructed of Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” at a time when I was listening to a lot of “Hail to the Thief”.
TJG: You recently tweeted about the premiere of “… to disagree” at Bang On A Can’s Summer Music Festival. Could you tell us a little bit about the new piece, and how it unfolded at the premiere?
PL: I am excited to be a part of the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA. For those not in the loop, Bang On A Can is a new music organization associated with composers Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. This collective is particularly well-know for their rhythmic approach to composing for “classically-trained” musicians. I was drawn to the festival because it offered an opportunity to write in a new way. My composition “…to disagree.” was written for a modified Pierrot ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, marimba, percussion). It is about the internal anger and frustration I experienced in a professional situation during which I was obligated to remain polite and affable despite my inner turmoil. I found this situation perfectly embodied by the phrase “let’s agree to disagree.” This piece is just about disagreeing. The premiere was featured alongside eight other composers and the show on the whole was a huge success. “to disagree.” closed the evening and ended with a surprise. I can’t tell you about that part, you’d have to be there.
TJG: Remy, Kafka’s A Dream is a terrific story. Could you talk a little bit about the genesis of “A Dream: The Musical Imagination of Franz Kafka,” and how you went about approaching narrative form through music?
RL: Once it became clear to me that this was a piece I had to write, I spent almost a year reading exclusively Kafka—I read everything he published. The process of digging deeply into his work was rewarding. I often relate to and understand non-musical things by putting them in musical terms, and vice versa. When I first read “A Dream” the structure of the story stood out to me as something that would be an excellent structure for a piece of music. You know those paintings with the numbers that correspond to colors and all you have to do is fill them in? That’s what writing this piece was like for me; each emotion is a color, the instructions were all there, I just had to fill in Kafka’s structure with the music that I felt matched my interpretation of the story.
TJG: Has this kind of exploration in fiction and text-setting extended to any other projects since its premiere?
RL: Yes, in fact Pascal and I created an entire album around the foundation of literature-based music, it just hasn’t been released yet. Called Imaginist, the album features JACK Quartet, and is structured to unfold like a book complete with prologue and epilogue. The term “Imaginist” is a reference to the early 20th century Russian poetry movement in which Imaginists employed sequences of arresting and uncommon images alongside long chains of metaphors. I have written a few text-based works in the past as well, including a chamber ensemble work based on Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “The Third Elegy,” and a string quartet based on “Hansel & Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm. I intend to continue writing this way, fiction will always be an inspiration I look towards.
TJG: Congratulations on the new Le Boeuf Brothers album, Remixed, and on the IMA award! Tell me a little but about the origins of the project, and how you set about finding collaborators.
PL: The concept of this project was to produce a remix album of our prior release “In Praise of Shadows.” We were aware of a growing community of improvising musicians that also make electronic music such as David Binney, Louis Cole (of Knower), Tim Lefebvre, Jochen Rueckert (Wolff Parkinson White), Nickel Killsmics and others, and we saw this as an interesting opportunity to collaborate and make something unusual. We wanted to show this collaborative potential exists.
TJG: Do you have any plans for an upcoming solo project or new album?
RL: Our next release will be Imaginist. Additionally, much of the music that we will be performing at that Jazz Gallery will make its way onto my next album as a leader, which I hope to record in the fall. Pascal is also working on a followup to “Pascal’s Triangle” entitled “Blackout Lullaby”.
TJG: I spent a good deal of time listening to House Without A Door (2009). The album has big energy, and you seem at home in a number of musical settings; I’m thinking particularly of the ostanatos, rhythm section work, through-composed moments, and soli sections in Chocolate Frenzy and Tabula Rasa. In what specific ways do you think you have grown as composers and performers in the last couple of years?
PL: The greatest challenges we faced on “House Without A Door” were related to trying to find a balance between our compositional voices and allowing the other musicians the freedom to express themselves. When writing for improvising musicians, it’s important to give them a chance to make up their own ideas. Finding this balance was a wonderful learning experience. The tracks that made the album tended to be those that were most balanced in this regard.
RL: If I were a tree, I’d say I’ve been pruned. I write fewer notes than I used to, leaving room for conversations to blossom within the band. That isn’t to say I don’t have specific details I request in my compositions, but I have found the music breathes more when less is written.
TJG: You’ve written that this upcoming concert at The Jazz Gallery is a special birthday concert! Do the two of you have any musical birthday traditions?
PL: We certainly will have an epic party following the concert.
RL: We have had several crazy nights of celebrating with friends and bandmates after birthday shows. This will be a good one.
The Le Boeuf Brothers Group plays The Jazz Gallery on Tuesday, August 4th, 2015. The group features Pascal Le Boeuf on piano, Remy Le Boeuf on alto saxophone, Donny McCaslin on tenor saxophone, Linda Oh on bass, and Peter Kronreif on drums. Sets are at 7 and 9 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($8 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.