Architecture of Storms is Remy Le Boeuf’s second large-ensemble album. The first, Assembly of Shadows, received two Grammy nominations in 2019. It would not be surprising if this release received more such recognition. It is also a “big” record: in ambition, scale, and degree of difficulty.
There are 30 musicians on the personnel roster. Le Boeuf needs them all to create his intricate ensemble designs. The opening track, “Neener Neener,” sets the tone. It is a brash, dramatic announcement, a labyrinth of counterlines and riffs and calls and responses. Pieces that begin in relative calm rarely stay that way. They get loud, fast, and ornate. There are so many moving parts in a Le Boeuf chart, and so much blaring energy, that the effect can be overkill. Yet the composer is on top of the details. Everything fits together, kaleidoscopically.
Le Boeuf gives himself extensive solo space. His improvisations on alto and soprano saxophones are counterparts to his arrangements: colorful and convoluted, somewhere between frantic and fussy. It is unfortunate that the best soloists in the band, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, get only one opportunity each. “Face Value” has a solo from Stephens that sounds torn out of him. Rodriguez’s clarion response to the hypnotic theme of “Minnesota, WI” is flawless. (It is the album’s best song and only cover, composed by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who specializes in hypnotic themes.)
There is much to admire about Architecture of Storms. Le Boeuf’s postmodern orchestra, full of players capable of executing his intellectually challenging music, sounds like no other big jazz band. But Le Boeuf does not yet write memorable melodies, and his arrangements often sound overwrought and self-consciously clever. He remains a talent to watch.