Blending two traditions, jazz pianist and composer Pascal Le Boeuf and his quintet teams with the Bay Area’s Friction Quartet for concerts in Berkeley, Arcata, and San Francisco this week. He’s written for this kind of hybrid group before: his piece Alkaline, played with the JACK Quartet was nominated for a Grammy this year for Instrumental Composition. A new work called Ritual Being will be the centerpiece of the concerts.
Le Boeuf plays and writes – actually notates – his works, which is not the way a lot of players work: “What’s exciting about this project to me is I come from a jazz background, as an improvising pianist, and I’ve always been a composer working within that world. But it took me a long time to kind of find out that where I belong artistically is under the umbrella of composition.” And he’ll try to take the sensibility of a jazz ensemble, and carry that over into classical notation. “There are a lot of parts of the score that are notated with interpretive freedom, where the rhythms may be very specific, but the pitches aren’t. Or we’ll go from highly detailed notated music with extended techniques and odd time signatures, where it’s very specific, and then suddenly we jump off a cliff into complete open ambient cloud music, with a saxophone solo… In jazz music, traditionally when people improvise, you have what are called chord changes and rhythms, and we tend to take the harmonic outline of a song and improvise with that as a foundation. But classical musicians generally don’t think in terms of chord changes. They have other superpowers that they have access to.” Among those, he says, is the ability to be simultaneously four separate instruments in conversation with each other, and just as much a single unified instrument that can breathe and act as one. Within a single piece for quintet and quartet that balance and possible pairings will shift in time. “So the dynamic is different, and it’s always changing, and it’s nice to kind of step into one world or the other, or find where they come together.”