LeBoeuf Brothers

Preview: Le Boeuf Brothers to Play Kuumbwa

Santa Cruz natives the Le Boeuf Brothers take on Kafka and other literary inspirations on new album

Touring a new jazz album that grew out of music inspired by Kafka’s ‘A Dream,’ the Le Boeuf Brothers perform at Kuumbwa on Thursday, Nov. 10.

Now that Remy and Pascal Le Boeuf have turned 30, it’s probably time to stop thinking about them as jazz wunderkind. The twin brothers from Santa Cruz have spent more than half of their lives as stand-out musicians, and they’ve been putting out remarkably mature work since their undergraduate years.

In many ways, they’re pursuing increasingly divergent creative paths these days, which makes their collaborations richer, but ever more tricky. Pascal, a commanding pianist, and Remy, a reed expert who plays oboe and bass clarinet as well as alto sax, bring their latest body of music to Kuumbwa Thursday when they conclude a six-city California tour celebrating the release of a striking new album, Imaginist. Inspired by various literary sources, it’s a richly textured chamber jazz session combining a top-shelf jazz quintet with a cutting-edge string quartet, and mellifluous narration by actor and UCSC professor Paul Whitworth.

Unlike anything they’ve created before, Imaginist grew out of a grant Remy received to compose a suite inspired by “A Dream,” a short story by Franz Kafka. Rather than limiting him with thematic confines, Remy discovered that the Kafka story liberated him.

“I liked exploring the shape of text, thinking outside the box and avoiding routines and habits I’d found myself writing within,” he says. “I tried to be as true to the text as possible. I had to fill in all the colors.”

The album features a cast of heavyweights, including Kneebody tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel, bassist Ben Street (heard recently at Kuumbwa with drum legend Billy Hart), and drummer Justin Brown. For Thursday’s gig, the Le Boeufs are joined by bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Peter Kronreif, who share rhythm section duties on Imaginist, and Friction, a Bay Area string quartet championed by Kronos Quartet featuring cellist Doug Machiz, violist Taija Warbelow, and violinists Otis Harriel and Kevin Rogers.

Pascal came to the project after Remy was already deep into “A Dream,” and he approached his pieces by creating the musical equivalent of the surrealist poetic practice known as “exquisite corpse,” where sentences and verses are constructed via a collective process of addition. The concept came up when he was hanging out with Justin Brown “just listening to music, and we put something on Spotify and iTunes at the same time, two random songs that totally fit, something by Beak and some ambient thing I wrote,” Pascal says.

On Imaginist, the “exquisite corpse” pieces are bracing, full of tension and unexpected synchronicities. “When we play them live it’s like two jam sessions, with lots of push and pull,” Pascal says. “It’s a very controlled, intentional process. I’ll specify the rules, but a certain amount of risk is important. The danger is the coolest part—that ‘wow’ moment when you see the poetry unfold.”

The ambitious thrust of Imaginist doesn’t come out of the blue. Both brothers have channeled a good deal of their creative energy in recent years into writing and arranging for a diverse array of musical situations.

Pascal, for instance, has composed pieces for Bang On a Can, and recently co-produced a new album by the acclaimed new music duo RighteousGIRLS. He’s toured and recorded with suave jazz vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris, and plays with the roots-rock band Jesus On the Mainline, which just signed to Ropeadope.

While still deeply tied to the New York scene, Pascal is living in Princeton while pursuing a doctorate in composition, “focusing on this subject, bringing together new music with improvising jazz community and rock,” he says. “The idea is to allow everyone to be who they are, creating these hybrid forms where I can play to the strengths of many different people.”

Based in Brooklyn, Remy has been focusing on composing for big bands due to a series of commissions. He’s toured with saxophonist/composer Bob Mintzer’s big band, and he’s writing arrangements for James Farm pianist Aaron Parks. Like his brother, Remy has walked on the rock ’n’ roll path with the Los Angeles indie rock combo Wildcat! Wildcat!

“We opened for Dirty Projectors, and that was such an exciting experience, to stand on a stage and have 10,000 people cheering,” Remy says. “But there’s still nothing like playing your own music in an intimate club.”  

The Le Boeuf Brothers perform at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10 at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. $20/adv, $25/door. 427-2227.

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