Label: SoundSpore Records, 2019
Personnel: Remy LeBoeuf: alto and soprano saxes, flute; John Lowery: tenor sax, clarinet; Ben Kono: tenor sax, clarinet; Vito Chiavuzzo: alto sax, flute; Carl Maraghi: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Anna Webber: flute; Philip Dizack: trumpet; Matt Holman: trumpet; John Lake: trumpet; Toni Glausi: trumpet; Eric Miller: trombone; Natalie Cressman: trombone; Isaac Kaplan: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: trombone; Nick Depinna: trombone; Alex Goodman: guitar; Martha Kato: piano; Matt Aronoff: bass; Peter Kronreif: drums; James Shipp: percussion.
2019 has been a particularly busy year for saxophonist/composer Remy Le Boeuf, who releases two albums as a leader with a temporal gap of just six months between them. If his earlier quartet recording, Light as a Word, fell below the expectations, then Assembly of Shadows, a large-ensemble project featuring a number of talented musicians, is a wonderful surprise that unveils different aspects of his compositional and arranging artistry.
Expertly conducted by Gregory Robbins, the album comprises a total of seven tracks, five of which integral movements of the suite that gives the album its title. The first steps are given through standalone compositions such as “Strata”, a Le Boeuf original commissioned by Japan’s Keyo Light Music Society in 2015, and a creative reading of Ornette Coleman’s “Honeymooners”. While the former follows a luxurious and consistently harmonious orchestral arrangement that thrusts flutist Anna Webber and trombonist Eric Miller to the limelight, the latter piece might feel curbed in intensity in an initial phase, a slight impression that soon goes away with the appearances of precious rhythmic details and a fluid narration by the bandleader, who centralizes our attention in his unscripted soprano audacities. The last section of this piece brings collective passages filled with humor and precision.
The five-movement suite, which tells the story of a little girl who gets lost in a forest and then falls asleep, is built with an inexorable sense of unity. Everything is imbued with resplendent tonal patterns and confident pulsations. It’s absolutely remarkable that, regardless the number of active players, some passages feel so spacious, creating shared reflexes and empathy. The tactfulness present in the second movement, “Assembly of Shadows”, can be taken as an example, here consummated by gorgeous improvisations from guitarist Alex Goodman and trumpeter Philip Dizack. The lyrical, leisurely paced “Light Through The Leaves” blends jazz and classical with imagination and embraces the rubato and the waltzing as its natural paths.
The odd-metered “Shapeless Dancer” and the neatly-wrought “Transfiguration”, third and fourth movements of the suite, respectively, are undoubtedly my favorite. Dizack and tenorist John Lowery are the highlighted soloists on the former, whereas on the latter it’s Le Boeuf and Carl Maraghi, on alto and baritone saxophone, respectively, who produce one of those magical interactive moments that soar high before invading our subconscious with its intrinsic beauty. The transcendent final minutes belong to pianist Martha Kato, who shapes up her distinguished sound with enormous sensitivity.
Succeeding in connecting with the listener, this streamlined recording alternates the douceur with the sharpness, the firm with the fragile, the cooperative consciousness with the individual instinct. Big band connoisseurs and contemporary jazz devotees should go for it.
01 - Strata ► 05 - Shapeless Dancer ► 06 - Transfiguration