Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Phobos
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam 017)
Erica von Kleist (reeds), Sam Sadigursky (reeds), Rob Wilkerson (reeds), Mark Small (reeds), Josh Sinton (reeds), Seneca Black (trumpet, flugelhorn), Laurie Frink (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tom Goehring (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike Fahie (trombone), James Hirschfeld (trombone), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Jennifer Wharton (trombone), Sebastian Noelle (guitar), Mike Holober (piano, keyboards), Matt Clohesy (bass), Jon Wikan (drums).
Conducted, composed and arranged by Darcy James Argue.
Recorded: Englewood, NJ, December 15-17, 2008
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
Jazz big bands don't just need lots of charts, plenty of swing and a reliable bus to take them from gig to gig. They also rely on a guiding metaphor. In the old days, the ruling metaphor was a military one: the different sections of the band engaged in battle, and the arrangements were built on a constant thrust and parry between trumpets, trombones, reeds and rhythm. This approach no doubt derived from the counterpoint of New Orleans jazz, and reflected the larger bands' attempts to capture the excitement of a style of music in which different melodic temperaments constantly countered one another. The next defining metaphor came with the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool nonet, which thought of itself as a choir. This band put aside combating sections in favor of a brisk, holistic approach based on the blending of disparate voices. "Make love, not war," it proclaimed, and the contrast with the previous big band tradition could not have been more stark.
And Darcy James Argue? His role model is neither an army or a choir. Rather, he seems to want to make his Secret Society to inhabit the sound terrain and mental space of a rock band. For long stretches at a time here, this large ensemble sounds like a small, intense unit, driven by a rhythm section that is so far away from the Count Basie-Walter Page-Jo Jones tradition, one struggles to establish any genealogy that gets you from there to here. When the sound gets bigger, it does so in such a natural, organic way that you hardly notice the other 12 musicians sneaking into the recording studio. Like a rock band, the Secret Society delights in big, assertive ideas. Things stretch out and take their own sweet time—again reminding me of some garage-bred musical concoction. "Phobos" lasts more than eleven minutes, and there are three other tracks on the CD that are roughly the same duration. Yet this rugged let-it-rip aesthetic is beefed up by a rich harmonic palette that you won't find at any rock concert.
One can certainly identify influences from other jazz artists, especially Maria Schneider. Many of the textures come out of the Miles-Gil-Maria playbook. But what Argue does with them is something else. This is fresh and non-derivative work, and justifies the intense buzz surrounding this bandleader's debut release.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia