Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

Toward the end of 2009, I read a lot about Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, an 18-piece big band, and its debut CD, Infernal Machines, which was showing up on several best-of-the-year lists. But I never received a copy of the album and couldn’t figure out how to contact the label, New Amsterdam. Finally, I bought a copy from Downtown Music, a terrific alt-jazz record store in Manhattan, and, it turns out, the excitement is justified.

Argue hails from Vancouver, has a background in chamber music, studied jazz composition with Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider, and started what he calls his “steampunk big band” in 2005.

Some of the tunes on Argue’s album are fusions of those influences: Schneider’s rolling lyricism stacked on Brookmeyer’s dark, bass-heavy rhythms. But there are other traces: Dave Douglas’ melancholic minor intervals; Gil Evans’ propulsive electric phase; the indigo dissonances of Julius Hemphill’s short-lived big band; even some of the march-band oom-pa-pa of Sousa—sometimes alternately, sometimes all shmooshed together, boisterous but always tight, never messy.

All of which is to say that Darcy James Argue has got an original sound.

He has a special knack for crisscross lines and interweaving rhythms, employing the big band not so much for a big sound or for call-and-response refrains, but rather for the timbres and textures that the different sections of a big band can stir into the mix.

Sometimes his pieces run on a bit, as if he doesn’t quite know where to take a gem once it’s cut. Still, this is a composer—and a band—to get to know and follow closely.

jrmandude's picture

jazz is shmooshed Sousa