18 July 2009

Review: Infernal Machines

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
I'm a bit late to Darcy James Argue's party, so I'll be brief. Argue, a heretofore relatively obscure composer and bandleader in New York, just released his debut album, a big band project which evokes both the lofty atmospherics of the Maria Schneider Orchestra and the sounds of modern indie rock. Argue recently wrote of his music:
What if the big band had remained the standard vehicle for popular music? What if every time you turned on the radio, everyone from T-Pain to Rihanna to Katy Perry was backed by a big band? What if Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend and MGMT all had 13-piece horn sections? What if the Rock Band video game came with a whole bunch of trumpet and saxophone and trombone controllers? I am not saying this would necessarily be a desirable situation. But it is fun to think about. At least, it’s fun for me to think about. And my music for Secret Society essentially comes out of me imagining what a jazz big band would sound like in an alternate reality where big bands were still widely popular (instead of a curious anachronism), and where jazz was still on speaking terms with other musical genres.
Judging from the sizable audience for his blog, as well as the many enthusiastic reviews of the album, it appears Argue is not the only person who thinks this would be fun to think about. Argue delivers the goods on the album, to boot. The opening track, Phobos, layers flowing wind orchestrations over an intense guitar line in a way that weds Gil Evans and late-period Led Zeppelin. Transit is another highlight, a bona fide barnburner featuring an excellent solo from trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

Argue might not change the trajectory of jazz, but he nonetheless offers a refreshing reinvention of the big band form. I can't wait to hear what he comes up with next. Those unfamiliar to Argue's work are recommended to check out his blog and website, where you can download free live recordings of the Secret Society, and his record label, New Amsterdam Records, where you can stream the album and anything else in their catalogue.

Track Listing: Phobos, Zeno, Transit, Redeye, Jacobin Club, Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar), Obsidian Flow

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