Assembly of Shadows

Remy Le Boeuf


Out November 1st, 2019 on SoundSpore Records

Following his May 2019 leader debut, Light as a Word—hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle for its “radiant, uncluttered beauty”—saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf takes a major leap forward in his artistic journey with his jazz orchestra release, Assembly of Shadows. Before embarking on the title work, a cinematic five-movement suite that also serves as the ensemble's namesake, the album begins with the standalone composition “Strata” and a kaleidoscopic reimagining of Ornette Coleman’s “Honeymooners.”

The players that populate Assembly of Shadows are among New York City’s finest, including Anna Webber (flute), Philip Dizack (trumpet), Alex Goodman (guitar) and of course Le Boeuf himself on alto/soprano saxophones and woodwinds. “I considered the unique voices of the soloists in the band and how I could highlight them to tell the story behind the music,” says Le Boeuf. And what a story. The suite follows the experience of “a child who runs away into a nearby forest, gets lost, and falls asleep,” Le Boeuf explains. “When she wakes, the shadows of the trees come alive and dance with her. Some are kind, some are scary, but they all teach her something about herself. They guide her home as the moon sets and she wakes up in her own bed, wondering if her adventure happened in reality or if it was a dream.”

Le Boeuf cites his love for jazz composers such as Maria Schneider and Charles Mingus, but also many 20th-century classical influences that trace back to his childhood, such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Benjamin Britten: “Growing up I traveled to the Vatican to sing Leonard Berstein’s Mass as a boy soprano soloist.” Le Boeuf continues, “I was also obsessed with Mingus and listened to Mingus Ah Um every night for a year while I slept so that I would internalize it. I had no idea at the time how these childhood experiences would shape my musical taste. They continue to serve me as a composer to this day.”

In its emotional breadth, contrapuntal intricacy and exacting attention paid to texture and timbre, Le Boeuf’s work on Assembly of Shadows establishes him as a writer of exceptional power and promise. Conductor Gregory Robbins is on hand to channel and direct the force of this extraordinary ensemble as well. There is tremendous drive from the rhythm section of bassist Matt Aronoff and drummer Peter Kronreif, not to mention sensitive and subtle flourishes from Martha Kato on piano. Philip Dizack’s back-to-back solos on movements II & III of the suite form a coherent and compelling thread as well: “Phil and I have been playing together for 15 years and I love the dark warmth of his sound and the range of color he gets out of the trumpet,” Le Boeuf remarks.

In what is perhaps Le Boeuf’s most striking solo feature, the suite’s fourth movement, “Transfiguration” finds him on alto sax sparring with baritone saxophonist Carl Maraghi. This back-and-forth dialogue represents for Le Boeuf “an inner battle with oneself. I wanted to juxtapose a sort of playful innocence and beauty against a grotesque monster. I felt that my concept of tone, phrasing, and range made me a good candidate for ‘innocence.’ For ‘the monster’ I wanted a deep, low, and explosive voice, and Carl Maraghi seriously delivered. He is such a powerful presence with a tremendous depth to his sound, and he isn’t afraid to really go for it.”

Before the suite came about, it was “Strata,” a 2015 commission from Keio Light Music Society in Japan, that sparked Le Boeuf’s deeper interest in jazz orchestra writing. Another opportunity came in 2018, when the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra hired Le Boeuf to arrange a piece for an Ornette Coleman tribute concert. He chose “Honeymooners” because he “saw a lot of potential for developing its themes.” Inspiration came in part from conversations with Coleman’s onetime guitarist Chris Rosenberg, who deepened Le Boeuf’s understanding of the tune and its origins. “When he brought the song into rehearsal, Ornette only had an angular, 9-measure melody. The rest of the song was improvised in rehearsal and Ornette would workshop different ideas for hours at a time until the song took shape.”

Reflecting on what he’s endeavored with Assembly of Shadows, Le Boeuf concludes: “I’ve always felt that in order to best honor a tradition, one ought to expand upon it. I am simply building on the foundations laid by my favorite composers, and taking the colors and gestures of jazz and 20th-century American classical music in some new directions.”
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Salt River Bed

Biddy Healey

This album is about ecological collapse––

when you find yourself far from the people you love, needing to make new connections and find a home in a place you don't belong.

at the end of life when neural connections break down, severing your links to the world around you.

in the spring, when migratory birds fail to return, when forests burn and habitat with them.

the collapse that doesn't spark nearly enough panic for our leaders to do any good, for us to stem the ecocide, to fight hard enough to win.

And this album is also about repair.

Refuse. Relieve. Revive. Reright. Rewrite.
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