Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam Records)
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Released May 2009
Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2011
JazzTimes Top 10 Albums of 2009
2010 JUNO Award nominee for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year Best Debut
2009 Village Voice Jazz Critics’ Poll Album of the Year
Top 10 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll 2009
Composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue’s 18-piece steampunk bigband Secret Society has been called a “powerful and well-stocked ensemble” and Argue a “Jazz Great of Tomorrow” (The New York Times), and his music has been dubbed “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” (Montreal Gazette). But most unique of all his accolades has to be Time Out NY/ New York Times critic Steve Smith’s twittering “OMG!” upon first hearing Infernal Machines, the album seemingly destined to change the face of modern big band music.
A startling and mesmerizing blend of jazz, indie/experimental rock, and classical minimalism, the album is the first studio recording by a composer and bandleader who Hank Shteamer of Time Out New York says “draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music with his band, Secret Society. Yet his complex, emotionally charged pieces handily transcend pastiche … the album ought to not only raise Argue’s profile, but also serve as a reminder that big-band jazz needn’t be a fossil.” This release, which takes its name from a John Philip Sousa quote about the dangers of music technology, features new definitive studio recordings of material Argue and the band have been developing since their first gig in 2005. Argue’s Secret Society is well-known for the virtuosity of the individual band members as well as the unique and groundbreaking sound of the compositions and the band as a whole, and Infernal Machines offers solos from his stable of incredibly talented band members, including trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonists Mark Small, Erica von Kleist, and New Amsterdam’s own Sam Sadigursky, and trombonists James Hirschfeld and Mike Fahie. Infernal Machines has been called “addictive not only for its architecture, but for its fetching way with color” (DownBeat), “a wickedly intelligent dispatch from the fading border between orchestral jazz and post-rock and classical minimalism” (New York Times), and “maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value” (Village Voice). James Hale has remarked that “Argue deserves his place alongside Schneider, Hollenbeck and other contemporary big band arrangers who are looking beyond traditional notions of what a large jazz orchestra should, and can, sound like” (Jazz Chronicles).
1. Phobos (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Jon Wikan 11:01
2. Zeno (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Ryan Keberle 7:13
3. Transit (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Ingrid Jensen 7:00
4. Redeye (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Sebastian Noelle 10:11
5. Jacobin Club (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Sam Sadigursky 10:54
6. Habeas Corpus [for Maher Arar] (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: James Hirschfeld 10:57
7. Obsidian Flow (Darcy James Argue) Featuring: Erica Von Kleist 9:39
Darcy James Argue: conductor, ringleader
Erica von Kleist: flute, alto flute, soprano sax, alto sax
Rob Wilkerson: flute, clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax
Sam Sadigursky: clarinet, soprano sax, tenor sax
Mark Small: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax
Josh Sinton: clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone sax
Seneca Black: trumpet, fluegelhorn
Tom Goehring: trumpet, fluegelhorn
Laurie Frink: trumpet, fluegelhorn
Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet, fluegelhorn
Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, fluegelhorn
Mike Fahie: trombone
Ryan Keberle: trombone
James Hirschfeld: trombone
Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone
Sebastian Noelle: acoustic & electric guitar
Mike Holober: acoustic & electric piano
Matt Clohesy: contrabass & electric bass
Jon Wikan: drum set, cajon, pandeiro, and misc. percussion
Recorded December 15-17, 2008 at Bennett Studios, Englewood, NJ.
Producer, Engineered & Mixed by Paul Cox
Mastered by Randy Merrill
Four years ago Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society played its first show, at a Lower Manhattan club that no longer exists. The music, written and arranged by Mr. Argue, an intense young composer from Vancouver, British Columbia, felt crowded with ideas: about jazz orchestration, minimalist rhythmic devices, post-rock textural dynamics. ”Transit,” which closed the set, paired a driving swing tempo with a dronelike harmonic underlay, creating a dual impression of progress and stasis. It was early in the life of the Secret Society, an 18-piece big band, but already there were the stirrings of an identity.
The growth of the ensemble since then has occurred in plain sight: Mr. Argue’s influential blog, secretsociety.typepad.com, features free downloads of every show, going all the way back to the first. Yet ”Infernal Machines,” the band’s first studio album, still manages to deliver a fresh jolt of discovery. It’s a potent debut, and the weight of its achievement feels properly definitive, like something the band has steadily been working toward.
”Transit” is the most conservative of its seven tracks, the one clearly descended from a large-group jazz tradition. Elsewhere Mr. Argue — who conducts the band but doesn’t play in it, like Maria Schneider — favors sprawling, event-driven set pieces propelled by rock rhythm and shaded in dark harmony. His guitarist, Sebastian Noelle, plays with echo and distortion, sometimes jarringly but often, as on ”Redeye,” with gleaming subtlety.
Movement is the album’s unspoken theme, and fluidity its strongest subtext. Mr. Argue uses rhythm deftly, arranging slippery parts for his horn and saxophone sections, or handing the reins to his rhythm section. He extracts just as much energy from a slow prowl, like the one on ”Jacobin Club,” as he does from the album’s livelier grooves, like the closing track, ”Obsidian Flow,” with its irregular pulse. Given the emphasis on flow, it’s noteworthy that a composition called ”Habeas Corpus” employs the sort of rhythmic pointillism associated with Steve Reich. Dedicated to Maher Arar, a prominent victim of extraordinary rendition, the piece feels both anxious and pointedly stalled, even when the band finally kicks into higher gear.
Nate Chinen (The New York Times)