Le Boeuf Brothers + JACK Quartet

Tricky business, this classical/jazz confluence. Bridging a chamber aesthetic and a bandstand vibe risks impairing each element. No question about one thing, though: on imaginist (Panoramic/New Focus), the coherence between respected string ensemble JACK and feisty improv group The Le Boeuf Brothers is lacking naught. Regardless of whether the music fully convinces you, the synergy is sufficient to create its own pleasures. Performance-wise, the Le Boeufs and JACK pull off a nice collabo.

“It” is a union of strings, reeds, and rhythm that’s meant to parallel a reader’s experience of traversing a narrative. A rich suite that boasts both prologue and epilogue, imaginist finds composer-pianist Pascal Le Boeuf and his sax-playing brother Remy alluding to Russian poetry gambits, speculating on the calculated risks of the exquisite corpse process, and spinning one of Kafka’s existential tales so that it has antecedents in both Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf and Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz. A somewhat dizzying venture, indeed.

The sound of the two groups uniting is sumptuous. Moving from vivid instrumental passages that feature saxophonist Ben Wendel to an extended narration of Kafka’s “A Dream,” Pascal’s rigorous pieces do everything they can to utilize the breadth of hues a double ensemble can conjure. Whether they’re scurrying through “Alkaline” or ruminating in “Foreshadow,” the tone is compelling. Wendel’s hollow cry in “Prologue” conjures the radiance of Jan Garbarek on Keith Jarrett’s Abour Zena.

Actor Paul Whitworth augments these textures with a narration of “A Dream” that gives the eerie graveyard reverie a whimsical slant. There are moments where it seems a tad too puckish, the music undercutting the grim story line; but ultimately Le Boeuf’s compositional change-ups are fetching. That’s certainly true on “Pretenders,” where the jazz and classical union couldn’t be any more balanced. All this elaboration is a break from the Le Boeuf’s somewhat frothy music of the past, and it brings a welcome gravitas to their growing songbook.

DownBeat

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