Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam Records)

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

Released April 30, 2013

Grammy Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2014




Brooklyn Babylon is the highly-acclaimed album from Brooklyn-based composer/ bandleader Darcy James Argue and his innovative 18-piece big band Secret Society. The follow-up to their critically acclaimed and GRAMMY-nominated debut, Infernal Machines (2009), Brooklyn Babylon shows Argue “expanding his sonic palette as never before” (Wall Street Journal).

Brooklyn Babylon also earned nominations for GRAMMY and JUNO Awards, and earned top spots for Arranger and Big Band in the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll. It was also named Best Album of 2013 by The New Republic and included in the Top 10 Albums for the 2013 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

Weaving together progressive jazz, early-American popular styles, Balkan folk musics, and the sounds of Brooklyn’s diverse contemporary music scene — from the dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem and experimental indie rock of Dirty Projectors to Missy Mazzoli’s blend of post-rock and quirky minimalism — Argue creates a vividly evocative musical narrative that is at once timeless and unlike anything heard before. Argue’s Secret Society is one of the most admired ensembles in contemporary jazz, having toured in Europe, Brazil, and North America and been twice featured at the Newport Jazz Festival. Its members include in-demand instrumentalists such as John Ellis, Ingrid Jensen, Ryan Keberle, and Sam Sadigursky.

Brooklyn Babylon was conceived in collaboration with Croatian-born visual artist Danijel Zezelj, whose narrative inspired Argue’s mash-up of musical styles. Zezelj’s artwork places the action in a larger-than-life, mythic Brooklyn, where past, present, and future coexist. Plans are afoot to construct an immense tower — the tallest in the world — right in the heart of the city. Lev Bezdomni, a master carpenter, finds himself torn between his personal ambition and his allegiance to the community when he is commissioned to build the carousel that will crown it.

Premiered to wide acclaim at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2011, Brooklyn Babylon is a long-form, structurally-integrated work combining Zezelj’s animation and live painting with Argue’s music. But like great stage works, such as Stravinksy’s Petrushka or Debussy’s Jeux, the composition works powerfully on its own. The 53-minute work shows Argue taking a novelistic approach to long-form composition: a prologue, eight chapters separated by brief interludes, and an epilogue. The album opens with the actual sounds of Brooklyn — a sonic collage of recordings of the borough captured on Argue’s portable digital recorder. The ensemble gradually comes into focus and introduces the Prologue, from which every subsequent musical theme in Brooklyn Babylon derives.  Argue reconfigures these themes using a broad array of techniques, inflected by contemporary indie rock, classical music, and jazz, particularly from the often maligned 1970s: the earthy avant-garde of Dewey Redman and Lester Bowie; the intricate large-ensemble sounds of Thad Jones and Don Ellis; and the sophisticated populism of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Waltzes, marches and — naturally — fairground carousels also fold into the mix.

Track Listing:

1. Prologue (Darcy James Argue) 5:01

2. The Neighborhood (Darcy James Argue) 6:13

3. Interlude #1: Infuse (Darcy James Argue) 1:06

4. An Invitation (Darcy James Argue) 2:38

5. Interlude #2: Enjoin (Darcy James Argue) 1:15

6. The Tallest Tower In the World (Darcy James Argue) 3:44

7. Interlude #3: Enthrall (Darcy James Argue) 1:15

8. Construction + Destruction (Darcy James Argue) 5:02

9. Interlude #4: Bewail (Darcy James Argue) 1:12

10. Builders (Darcy James Argue) 4:33

11. Interlude #5: Unmoored (Darcy James Argue) 1:34

12. Missing Parts (Darcy James Argue) 5:24

13. Interlude #6: Arise (Darcy James Argue) 0:58

14. Grand Opening (Darcy James Argue) 4:37

15. Interlude #7: Aloft (Darcy James Argue) 0:40

16. Coney Island (Darcy James Argue) 3:18

17. Epilogue (Darcy James Argue) 4:32


Darcy James Argue: conductor

Erica von Kleist: piccolo, flute, alto flute, soprano sax, alto sax, electronics

Rob Wilkerson: flute, clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax

Sam Sadigursky: clarinet, tenor sax

John Ellis: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax

Josh Sinton: clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, baritone saxophone

Seneca Black: trumpet, fluegelhorn

Tom Goehring: trumpet, fluegelhorn

Matt Holman: trumpet, fluegelhorn

Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet, fluegelhorn

Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, fluegelhorn, electronics

Mike Fahie: euphonium, trombone

Ryan Keberle: trombone

James Hirschfeld: trombone, tuba

Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone, tuba

Sebastian Noelle: acoustic & electric guitar

Gordon Webster: acoustic & electric piano, melodica

Matt Clohesy: contrabass & electric bass

Jon Wikan: drum set, tapan, surdo, cajón, shaker, tambourine, misc. percussion

Recorded June 19 – 21, 2012 at Avatar Studios, NY

Engineers: Brian Montgomery, Paul Cox

Assistant Engineers: Tim Marchiafava, Tyler Hartman

Mixed by Brian Montgomery

Mastered by Randy Merrill

Produced by Brian Montgomery, Darcy James Argue, Beth Morrison

Design: Danijel Zezelj


Part of the audience engagement process in multimedia performance is the integral dynamic of conflict and resolution between forms. Take one of them away and you have a different sensory experience. So, having witnessed graphic artist Danijel Zezelj and Darcy James Arguecreate separate but integrated works of art in the live performance of Brooklyn Babylon, it’s challenging to antedate expectations around what may seem to be one part of an equation. However, Argue’s release of the suite from Brooklyn Babylon does more than stand up—it is an astonishing, living and breathing creation; as sprawling and vibrant as the sweeping canvas of Zezelj’s monolithic Brooklyn Bridge and wrecking ball, beautifully reproduced for the CD’s cover.
The scope of Brooklyn Babylon is expansive and insightful. Classically bookended with its “Prologue” and “Epilogue,” Argue’s compositions incorporate pastoral Americana, European influences and measures of avant-garde. As an extended form, this suite differs from Secret Society’s much heralded debut Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam, 2009) where solo performances are more insistent compared to the Impressionistic and billowing backdrop of the main themes. Brooklyn Babylon is cinematic in its slow and understated setting of scenes giving way to highly expressive improvisations and then regrouping.
Erica von Kleist’s piccolo, Josh Sinton’s baritone sax and Sebastian Noelle’s electric guitar impart vocal qualities to their instruments when the Secret Society expresses powerful human emotions as in “The Tallest Tower in the World.” Architectural and social engineering come together in “Construction + Destruction” reflecting the broader implications of progress through the dark veil of a daunting Gotham infrastructure. The collateral damage can be felt eloquently in Ingrid Jensen’s haunting trumpet on “Builders” even while the adjacent melody never gives up enthusiasm for moving forward and apprehension of the unknown. The melting pot of Brooklyn figures prominently through Latin, Middle-Eastern and Eastern European flavors. Those subtly devised inspirations are most notable in pieces like “Prologue,” “Missing Parts” and “Interlude No. 3. Enthrall” with its Central Asian influences.

Argue—like Maria Schneider—is among a small handful of exceptional composers who have taken ensemble music far beyond a vestige of a bygone era. He deals in complicated themes not easily made musically palatable but Argue and the Secret Society take them to a level that is completely engrossing. With its humanity, complexity and transformational beauty, Argue has created a timeless modern masterpiece with Brooklyn Babylon.

Karl Ackermann (All About Jazz)