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Composer and big-band leader Darcy James Argue's blog (secretsociety.typepad.com) contains some of the most literate and invigorating writing about modern jazz and its context--free of cliché, wary of dogma, catholic about tastes, and fastidious about details. The same can be said of Mr. Argue's compositions for the extraordinary ensemble he conducts. A few years ago, this was something of a secret society, playing Manhattan clubs in semi-obscurity. An audience steadily grew, attracted in part via the blog's free downloads of performances, which chronicled the music's development. This debut studio recording reveals something fully matured: brimming with fresh ideas; elegant in its combination of disparate influences (from distorted electric guitar to magisterial wind-instrument arrangements to minimalist rhythms); and accomplished in execution. -- Wall Street Journal, Larry Blumenfeld, December 2009
A little more than a decade ago, Maria Schneider served notice that big band jazz was no longer the domain of our grandparents. She has gone on to own the genre and now, Brooklyn resident and star Schneider pupil, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society takes it to an exceptional place with his debut, Infernal Machines. What is exceptional is how true to the pure nature of jazz this collection is; full of innovation, creativity, and bold, daring departures from the commonplace. Free improvisation, or its more conscious counterpart, is difficult even in a small setting. Argue's eighteen piece ensemble manages to pull off a menagerie of styles that range from dissonant to lyrical to a wilder Loose Tubes type of progressive swing. It never falters and it is never anything less than an intriguing trip. The remarkable thing here is not that Secret Society is so adept at each distinctive form (18 good musicians can pull that off); it is that Argue, as a world class composer and arranger, uses them so cohesively and to the stimulating affect that he does. "Obsidian Flow" begins as a leisurely paced tune seemingly built for a rhythm section more than an orchestra. Argue's cinematic touch lets the piece build, telling a story as it unfolds into a full blown collective work for the larger group. Similarly, "Habeas Corpus," on paper, could sound like a straightforward Point A to Point B transition but the sound is both complex and nuanced at the same time, and it demands repeated listening. In this piece, Argue incorporates a classical crescendo and then an almost rock style electric guitar all in the midst of a solid jazz foundation. If it sounds like too much, it isn't. The magic in Argue's method is that each influence blends seamlessly into the next without disrupting the context of the piece. The faultless flow and blending of styles is present on every track of Infernal Machines. "Jacobin Club" flirts with a Middle Eastern subtext if only for a moment. "Redeye" floats along on gentle, if slightly hallucinogenic electric guitar riffs, not bringing in the orchestra until late. Throughout the collection there are brief and brilliant passages that can make you wonder if you heard what you suspect you did. This is an endlessly interesting collection and creates anticipation for a sophomore effort from Argue. -- All About Jazz, Karl Ackermann, March 15, 2010
Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based Argue has expanded the big band vocabulary. A protégé of masters Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider, he bridges the gaps between new classical, indie rock and jazz. Argue's studio debut lives up to his promise. From Jon Wikan's processed cajon opening "Phobos" to the propulsive, Radiohead-inspired middle section of "Transit," to a haunting piece dedicated to fellow McGill alumnus Maher Arar, it's clear this is no ordinary big band album. Argue's masterful use of mutes and woodwind doubles, his harmonic sophistication, attention to form, and a secret weapon in guitarist Sebastian Noelle, place Infernal Machines at the forefront of 21st century jazz. -- Exclaim!, David Ryshpan, December 2009
Top Customer Reviews
Honestly, this album doesn't floor me. But for a 34-year-old composer, this is heady stuff. Think Frank Zappa without the silliness, Danny Elfman without the hyperactivity, Gil Evans updated for the new millennium.
Jazz needs this kick in the rear. It's not mothballed history, it's not superficial smooth Jazz, it's not hard-to-listen-to avant garde.
Four stars on a project this ambitious is, for me, a vote of confidence in what's to come. I've seen the band live, and they are already better than the CD, they are evolving that fast. In particular, I love the sax solo by Erica von Kleist on Obsidian Flow. Buy this now, so you can tell everyone else in a couple years, Yeah, I've been listening to the Secret Society all along.
Darcy James Argue has made one of the most impressive debuts in recent jazz history. The "secret society" is a jazz big band consisting of 18 members (Erica vonKleist, Sam Sadigursky, Rob Wilkerson, Mark Small, Josh Sinton, Seneca Black, Laurie Frink, Tom Goehring, Nadje Noordhuis, Ingrid Jensen, Mike Fahie, James Hirschfeld, Ryan Keberle, Jennifer Wharton, Sabastian Noelle, Mike Holober, Matt Clohesy, and Jon Wikan). While "Infernal Machines" is first and foremost a jazz album, Argue incorporates elements of rock and electronica to give the CD a ultra modern sound. At times it almost sounds like Pink Floyd. Infernal Machines is perhaps the best integration with electric guitar and a jazz orchestra that I've ever heard. Here Argue is not trying to fit the electric guitar into the jazz orchestra he crafted songs that make the jazz orchestra embellish what can be done with the electric guitar. The use of drums and guitar feedback is simply astonishing. Each song on the CD is five-star and is filled with lots of clever parts. Each song is unique and endearing in its own way, yet the album flows together beautifully as a whole.
Phobos: This song is named after the doomed moon of Mars, Phobos. The echoing drums that open this song and the album do a great job of setting the mood. Next, a sad melody of interwoven horns is combined with some subtle guitar feedback. After that the mood swells and a single note guitar line with slight distortion sets in. Around the 9 minute mark the song sounds like it is winding down, and then the electric guitar rips in again. What a start to the CD.
Redeye: Redeye showcases guitarist Sebastian Noelle.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Darcy James Argue reinvents the big band with this impressive album. And they are even better live. A must-have for any serious fan of jazz.Published 2 months ago by Michael W. Garland
It was a record of the year. Great spin on big band even if I don't quite get the steam punk.Published 17 months ago by D. Jackson
The sound bites on Amazon sounded interesting but the CD not so much. Not jazz, sounds more like the sound track music to a moviePublished 17 months ago by LatitudeAdjustment
The most critically over-hyped record in history. Listed on just about 65-70% of critics top 10 lists for 2009. Read morePublished 21 months ago by ECMfan
Like a number of others, I bought into the hype around this and purchased it, but, what a let-down. Some music, especially good horn work, is sweet. This is sour. Read morePublished on July 11, 2013 by Mr. Philip Malthus
I highly recommend this album to anyone wanting to listen to some fresh large ensemble contemporary improvised music. Five stars.Published on April 17, 2013 by KM
I took a chance on this album based on reviews and descriptions. I was particularly intrigued by the listing of "Steampunk Big Band" as the musical style. Read morePublished on November 14, 2011 by Thomas Lockyear
I disagree with most of these reviews! This music has been hyped (enough for me to buy this record) and I'm incredibly disappointed!
I don't hear anything new or exciting. Read more