The Jazz.com Blog
May 12, 2009 · 0 comments
When I first heard the name Darcy James Argue, I was convinced it was a sly pseudonym. What a clever idea to combine the surname of the hero in Pride and Prejudice with the identity of the author of Daisy Miller and pin an invitation to a polemic at the end! I wished that I could invent that kind of secret identity for myself.
Don’t blame me for defining this artist in 19th century terms. Mr. Argue sets the tone himself with his logo, which combines some evil-looking Industrial Revolution piece of equipment with a font that was apparently constructed with a chisel and wood blocks. Check it out above, in all its pre-Adobe-Systems barbarity.
Today is the release date of Darcy James Argue’s CD Infernal Machines. But it almost seems like old news in the jazz world, since the buzz on this project literally started before it was recorded. The Newsweek rave (comparing the bandleader to Duke Ellington) is not even on the newsstand any more. It came and went before the CD hit the street. As Doris Day might have said, the Secret Society's no secret anymore.
But in case, you haven't learnt the secret handshake yet, I urge you to take the oath and join. I usually like to slow down the rush to coronation for any artist—especially if it happens before the debut CD arrives at the stores. But I can’t play the spoilsport here. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society is every bit as fresh and exciting as its logo is retro and out-of-date. You can try to pigeonhole it—as coming out of a Maria Schneider or Gil-Evans-does-Hendrix bag. But on top of this Argue layers a sense of self-directed freedom that one finds more often in a small, intense rock band.
One of the joys of hearing this ensemble is in following the strategies by which Argue gets his 18 musicians to move as nimbly and explosively as a compact combo. Horn sounds are masked as electronica. Percussion and guitar take on a prominence rarely seen in large ensembles. Orchestral textures float like enormous sound cushions behind the soloists. These devices can be heard to good effect on the CD's opening track "Phobos," (currently featured as Song of the Day at jazz.com), which develops for a full two minutes before the listener realizes that this is a big band track.
It is a sad commentary on the major labels that—once again!—the drama and excitement in the world of big bands is taking place on a small independent label. These are the same major labels that don’t give you Maria Schneider, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, etc. The big band is such an expensive proposition, that it stands out as the one area of jazz music that desperately needs the support of a strong partner. Yet the majors are missing in action, time and time again.
Two other outstanding recent releases by large ensembles reinforce this point. Bobby Sanabria’s recording of Kenya Revisited Live!!! and Joseph C. Phillips’s Vipassana are outstanding albums—two of my favorite CDs of the year to date. Listening to them, one is not only struck by the quality of the music, but also by the amount of hard work by a large number of people that must have gone into creating recordings of this scope and scale. I can’t help believing that, in a different day, a Columbia or RCA or even a Verve or Blue Note, would have wanted to be part of projects of this sort.
Apparently those days are gone. But fans should not ignore these three recordings simply because they don’t have the imprimatur of a multinational entertainment conglomerate on their sleeves.
Check out the track reviews (with links for legal downloading) here:
Joseph C. Phillips: ”Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing Over the Earth” (from the CD Vipassana)
Bobby Sanabria & the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra: “Wild Jungle” (from the CD Kenya Revisited Live!!!)
Bobby Sanabria & the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra: “Congo Mulence” (from the CD Kenya Revisited Live!!!)
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society: "Phobos" (from the CD Infernal Machines)
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia