Modern Big Band Jazz from Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
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The last date listed for Darcy James Argue's Secret Society was Wednesday November 25, 2009 / 10:30pm.
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Listen to MP3s of Secret Society’s recent live performances.
Known as “a masterful tunesmith” (Troy Collins, AllAboutJazz.com) with “a fresh take on what a jazz big band can do” (Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen), Darcy James Argue is one of the most visible young composers in jazz. Critics have credited him with developing “a nearly perfect creative synthesis between tradition and innovation” (John Eyles, BBC.com), calling his compositions “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” (Juan Rodriguez, Montreal Gazette) and noting his “big, broad musical vocabulary” (Ben Ratliff, The New York Times). Time Out New York’s Hank Shteamer adds, “Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music” in a way that “handily transcends pastiche.”
A native of Vancouver, and former member of the Montreal jazz scene, Argue moved to New York in 2003 after studying with legendary composer Bob Brookmeyer. Since 2005, he has led his own 18-piece big band, Secret Society, in regular performances around the city at a diverse range of venues, including Le Poisson Rouge, the Jazz Gallery, and the Bowery Poetry Club. Secret Society evokes an alternate musical history in which the dance orchestras that ruled the Swing Era never went extinct, but remained a popular and vital part of the evolving musical landscape. Adopting a steampunk-inspired attitude towards the traditional big band, Argue refashions this well-worn instrumentation into a cutting-edge ensemble.
The band’s debut recording, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam Records), which takes its name from a John Philip Sousa quote about the dangers of music technology, was released in May 2009 to widespread acclaim. Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls praised it as “a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future” and Time Out New York’s David R. Adler awarded it five stars and proclaimed it “a seven-track marvel of imagination.” In his feature article on Argue for the Village Voice, Richard Gehr called it “maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head.”
Following the release of Infernal Machines, Secret Society embarked on its first European tour, which included an appearance at the famed Moers Festival in Germany — a performance hailed by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger’s Martin Woltersdorf as “one of the highlights of the 38th annual festival.” Their June 2009 concert at Philadelphia’s International House will be featured in an upcoming episode of WHYY-TV’s On Canvas, and in September the band will headline the opening night of the fifth annual New Languages Festival in New York.
When not leading his own band, Argue has collaborated with European ensembles such as the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, and is a founding member of Pulse, a federation of six New York-based composers that has collaborated with singer Joy Askew, guitarist John Abercrombie, and trumpeter John McNeil. He is also an alumnus of the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s Composer Mentorship Program and his chamber music has been performed by percussionist Svet Stoyanov. His work as an arranger includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concerts with alt-country artist Shelby Lynne, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and jazz-soul songstress Lizz Wright.
Nominated in the “Large Ensemble” and “Up & Coming Artist” categories at this year’s Jazz Journalists Association Awards, Argue was also the 2009 recipient of the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award. He was among the composers selected for the Jazz Gallery’s 2008-2009 Large Ensemble Commissioning Series, and was the 2004 recipient of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Composition Prize. He has received grants from the American Music Center, Meet The Composer, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Canada Council for the Arts. In addition to Bob Brookmeyer, Argue has also studied with Lee Hyla, Randall Woolf, Maria Schneider, and John Hollenbeck.