Remy Le Boeuf | Light as a Word
“It’s kind of a surprise to me that, because I’m a twin, sometimes the world doesn’t see me as an individual,” says the alto saxophonist and composer Remy Le Boeuf, who has released four albums as co-leader of Le Boeuf Brothers with his identical twin brother, Pascal. “I forget that I’m a twin all the time, but the world around me doesn’t forget. I am excited to take this long-overdue step of putting out my own record.”
The world of which Remy speaks should be forgiven; after all, Le Boeuf Brothers have earned a reputation as one of the most exploratory and engaging rising small groups in jazz. Of their 2009 album, House Without a Door, the New York Times wrote that it “reaches for the gleaming cosmopolitanism of our present era.” In the fall of 2016, that newspaper of record said, “Their impressive new album, imaginist, is a collaboration with the JACK Quartet, and it goes further than most such efforts to tackle the idea of ‘chamber-jazz’ without holding back on either side.”
On the dozen tracks comprising Light as a Word, Remy’s highly anticipated debut as sole bandleader, the 32-year-old’s gifts make a gorgeous, powerful argument for center stage. As he explains, Light as a Word is, in essence, the sound of complete creative freedom. “I didn’t need to compromise on this album,” he says. “There was no resistance. I could just do what I do.”
Funnily enough, Remy’s unfettered artistic vision is in fact one of profound musical empathy—a series of sonic dialogues in which a fantastic band digs deeper and deeper into its technical and emotional chemistry. “My musical values are built around communication,” Remy says. “I value conversation, interaction, intimacy, authenticity and the ability to capture emotion. I chose this band specifically because they help me achieve that.” To keep the interplay fresh and intriguing, Remy made a point not to over-compose. (For a musician well versed in large-scale orchestration, that’s no small act of restraint.)
Emotionally direct while also being dictated by the desires of the ensemble, the expression on display runs the gamut—from the thoughtfully explosive performances on “Full Circle”; to “The Melancholy Architecture of Storms,” written with the poet Sara Pirkle Hughes, in which the band whirls in and around the saxophonists’ fervent discourse; to the reflective, wistful edge of “Vista Hermosa,” an homage to the gospel-tinged brilliance of Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band; and “Union,” an exercise in heartrending melody that Remy crafted for his sister’s wedding.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Remy’s collaborators here are also among the most talented and influential jazz artists currently at work, and some of his dearest and oldest friends in music. Remy and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III form a robust, conversational frontline, playing with, off and against each other in ways that feel contemporary while also evoking the language of a classic dual-sax hookup like Cannonball and Coltrane. Pianist Aaron Parks is a generous presence throughout the album, bolstering the harmony but artfully creating space, interpreting the classical undercurrents in Le Boeuf’s compositions, and acting as a font of melody in his solos.
Remy has been collaborating with the bassist Matt Brewer for a decade—he appears on House Without a Door—and his nimble, tuneful approach fits this ensemble and material like a glove. The Austrian-born drummer Peter Kronreif has toured with Le Boeuf Brothers over the past eight years. “Peter really understands the way I think,” Remy says. “I love how he shapes my compositions, and how he plays with a tremendous dynamic range.” Remy’s fellow native Northern Californian Charles Altura, a go-to guitarist for Chick Corea and Terence Blanchard, appears on a couple of tracks, including “Imperfect Paradise,” where his solo is positively combustible.
In addition to the acclaim he’s garnered with Le Boeuf Brothers, Remy has received commissions and awards from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, SFJAZZ, the ASCAP Foundation, DownBeat and other organizations. In May of last year, his arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s “Honeymooners” was performed in New York by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. He’s currently anticipating the recording of a full-length by his own jazz orchestra, Assembly of Shadows.
At present, though, he’s on focused on Light as a Word, which, despite its ambition and artistry, is affecting in a bracingly straightforward way. “I have a tendency to want to take big risks all the time,” Remy admits. “But I feel that, this being my debut album, I want to show the world what I can do in more of a classic format. I also want to lay a groundwork for things to come.”
Light as a Word is the debut album of saxophonist and composer, Remy Le Boeuf. Out May 24, 2019, the it features longtime friends & collaborators,
Walter Smith III (tenor sax), Aaron Parks (piano), Charles Altura (guitar), Matt Brewer (double bass) & Peter Kronreif (drums). Remy’s unfettered artistic vision is one of profound musical empathy—a series of sonic dialogues in which a fantastic band digs deeper and deeper into its technical and emotional chemistry.