Le Boeuf Brothers Find a Quiet Place Together


Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf have been described as “impressive musically and, most importantly, impressive as people,” by Tim Jackson of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Courtesy of Le Boeuf Brothers)

Pascal and Remy Le Boeuf’s new quintet album, Hush, came out of a conversation about what to listen to in the car.

“We realized we both just wanted to listen to some music that was relaxing,” explains Pascal Le Boeuf, in a recent tandem Zoom call with his brother. “Something that felt like Bill Evans, that wasn’t so aggressive and in your face. So we decided to just make something like that.”

It’s a surprising left turn for the 37-year-old twins — Pascal, piano, and Remy, alto saxophone — who since 2009 have released a striking string of fiercely eclectic mashups of jazz, modern classical and indie-rock. Recorded at exceptionally low volume, with instruments pushed close to microphones cranked high, the album creates a space of hyper awareness, as brushes shush a snare drum, air — or spit — rushes through a horn, or a finger taps a dampened piano key.

Several of Pascal’s short pieces, including the opener, “Arrivals,” and the closer, “Departures,” were inspired by performance artist Meredith Monk, whose music he turned to for solace during the pandemic. Meditations of a sort, they dovetail nicely with Remy’s two “Vignettes,” part of a series of elegantly virtuosic solo alto saxophone compositions he has released in two books. The delicately elegiac “Susie Song” celebrates an aunt who recently died; “Gaia” conjures the childlike mood of the brothers’ 3-year-old niece.

Yet much of the album steps lively, too. On the spritely “Wedding Planning,” a reference to Pascal’s marriage last year to fellow composer Molly Herron, Dayna Stephens’ tenor saxophone dances counterpoint with Remy’s alto. “Apollo” swells with a two-saxophone melody as drummer Christian Euman’s brushes subtly swing. Linda May Han Oh’s deep arco bass animates flapping saxes on “Revolving Doors.”

“I’m also still impressed by aggressive, angular, macho stuff,” says Remy, “but when everything is aggressive, angular and macho, you start looking for other things to explore. This is music.”

The brothers have been looking for other things to explore most of their lives. Growing up in the California redwoods, they eagerly took advantage of nearby jazz resources such as Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center (where their mother is a lifetime member and active volunteer), Monterey Jazz Festival’s education program (both played in the all-star youth band now called the Next Generation Orchestra), Stanford Jazz Workshop and SFJAZZ. They also received formative instruction from ex-Stan Kenton trumpeter and arranger Ray Brown, at Cabrillo College, in Aptos, and the late classical guitarist, Gene Lewis.

Both were stellar prodigies.

“They used to set up downtown with a keyboard and a saxophone and pass the hat,” recalls Monterey Jazz Festival and Kuumbwa chief Tim Jackson, who watched the twins grow up. “They are outstanding young men on all levels — impressive musically and most importantly, impressive as people.”

Remy’s first instrument was oboe, and he brings the severe focus of that double reed to his clarion sound and crisp articulation on alto saxophone. Pascal’s keyboard turns on a dime from athletic pyrotechnics to crystalline dream states, with a side dish of electronics. From Santa Cruz, they relocated to New York, attending the Manhattan School of Music. Since then, awards, commissions and grants have streamed their way, including, for Pascal, a 2023 Guggenheim Fellowship, and, for Remy, four Grammy nominations. Currently, they each hold academic posts, Pascal at the Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music,in Nashville, and Remy as director of jazz studies at the University of Denver.

Though best known for their collaborative albums — House Without A Door (2009), In Praise Of Shadows (2011), Remixed (2013) and Imaginist (2016) — the brothers have produced significant bodies of work as individuals.

Pascal recently finished his Ph.D. dissertation after course work at Princeton University, an experience that led to his 2023 release, Ritual Being. The album creates a riveting intersection of jagged contemporary classical and jazz rhythms, featuring jazz band (with Remy) and three string ensembles. Bristling with glissandos, tremolos, pregnant pauses and jackhammering staccatos, the piece also sports passages of breathtaking beauty. One piece, “Wanderlust,” is a cinematic homage to Dave Brubeck. Though “Ritual Being” suggests the influence of 20th century composers Edgar Varese and Igor Stravinsky, Pascal says his major inspirations are actually living composers such as Elliot Cole, Gabriella Smith, Steven Mackey, Donnacha Dennehy and Juri Seo.

Remy, for his part, has been exploring the modern jazz orchestra with his ensemble Assembly of Shadows, most recently on the Grammy-nominated Architecture Of Storms (2021), which shows the influence of Charles Mingus, among others.

“I never intended to be a jazz orchestra composer; I wanted to be more modern,” Remy says. “But I was hearing these big, grand things, and I was trying to fit them into a quintet. Somebody commissioned me to write music for their ensemble at Keio University (in Japan), and I had so much fun writing it, it just became a more comfortable place to be creative.”

Remy also currently serves as chief conductor of the Nordkraft Big Band in Denmark, which will record an album of his compositions this fall. Next spring also sees the release of a peppy new rock- and dance-influenced project, Heartland Radio, spurred by listening to local stations on the cross-country trip that took him to his new job in Denver.

Though their paths have diverged, the brothers say their hard-won individuality has made it even easier to work together.

“It’s because we have different ideas that we’ve become better collaborators,” says Remy. “When we started out, we were more similar. We’ve found this understanding and respect.”

Adds Pascal, “When we first were making records together, there was a lot more pressure to make a statement that was representative of a broad, collective identity. Now we can kind of explore a corner of our interests.”

A follow-up to Hush is in the works for 2024, but with “a different concept,” says Remy, “more exciting, showcasing the members of the group.” DB

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December 2023
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