Secret Society's first-ever Canadian incursion was well-documented by local pamphleteers and ink-stained wretches:
With a chewy, innovative band that featured several players who also hail from this area — trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (Vancouver Island), drummer Jon Wikan (Seattle) and Ryan Keberle (Spokane) — Argue delivered a 100-minute set that heaved with great tectonic shifts and a sci-fi vibe, perching intense jazz solos over driving, minimalist pulses and a thunderous underbelly of electric guitar and amped-up acoustic bass.
Across the street at the Vogue Theatre, the mood was darker and more pensive for North Vancouver–born Argue’s return to his native land.
The 18-piece big band led by Argue, a 36-year-old Canadian ex-pat living in Brooklyn, delivered lush but lucid, altogether fresh and stimulating original music. A feast of gorgeous musical details, manoeuvres and transformations, Argue’s six songs and one encore prompted whoops of appreciation from a diverse audience.
As the band entered, it became even clearer that Argue's personal touchstones range far and wide, with guitarist Sebastian Noelle creating orchestral swells and gritty power chords, Matt Clohesy pushing the time on electric bass and Wikan driving the groove with plenty of spontaneous action.
When he introduced his “Jacobin Club”—an homage to the misadventures of Robespierre—a “parable about absolute power corrupting absolutely,” the vividness of Argue’s imagination and historical detail was apparent.
The 18-piece big band soared through the leader’s intricately arranged, challenging material. Reeds and brass filled the room, Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet shining on “Transit” and James Hirschfield’s trombone on “Habeas Corpus.”
The highlight for me was the new piece, "Chapter 1: Neighborhood," from the upcoming Brooklyn Babylon project. It introduces leitmotifs from the rest of the suite, each of which reflects a certain hallmark of Argue's compositional vocabulary: the opening, post-Minimalist E pedal in the piano and reeds, shifting towards an almost disco-like backbeat for Mark Small to soar over, which returns after a circus waltz with a sombre lining.
Argue’s Secret Society, the 18-piece big band he brought from New York, painted some brilliant soundscapes during their 90-minute set.
[N.B. "Pharaoh Magnetic" is a new one on me -- I almost wish I'd been clever enough to think of that pun.]
One definite Toronto Jazz Festival highlight was the Toronto debut of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. Led by Vancouver-born composer Argue, they have become darlings of the New York scene, and their simply stunning 90-minute performance showed why.
The band melds the harmonies and syncopation (if rarely the straight-ahead swing) of jazz with the sound processing and complex beats of electronic music, the atmosphere and expansiveness of ﬁlm music, and the intensity of adventurous rock.
Ayons confiance, car ce jazz du musicien canadien (transplanté dans la Grosse Pomme) aspire tout sur son passage. Non seulement draine-t-il les grands enseignements du big band moderne (George Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson, Maria Schneider, etc.), mais encore intègre-t-il nombre de musiques cruciales de notre époque: improvisation libre, minimalisme américain, musiques symphoniques contemporaines de tradition européenne, grandes musiques de film pour orchestre, mais aussi rock indie ou même électro!
Gros coup de cœur sur disque, gros coup de cœur sur scène : Le Darcy James Argue Secret Society. Quelle équipe! Bel ensemble, solides solistes (Ah ! Le solo d'Ingrid Jensen en fin de course... il résonne encore dans mes oreilles!) et compositeur inspiré et inspirant.
Audio highlights from the tour coming soon...