Live: Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Gets Palindromic At Galapagos


Secret Society Big Band
Galapagos Art Space
Friday, March 9

Better than: A certain big band that snoozed its way through the blues uptown a couple of nights earlier.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society—an impeccably appointed 18-wheeler of a jazz group in top shape—made only its second appearance since the November premiere of Brooklyn Babylon, a collaboration with the graphic novelist Danijel Zezelj at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and if it’s any indication of the direction in which Argue is steering his ensemble, look out below.

Argue structured the set like a palindrome. New works by David T. Little and Vijay Iyer nested inside something old and something new by Argue, with a suite of three sections from Brooklyn Babylon as centerpiece. The show started with “Zeno,” the evening’s only piece from Secret Society’s excellent 2009 debut, Infernal Machines. In this context, “Zeno”‘s increasingly segmented measures foreshadowed what Argue characterized as the “rhythmic skullduggery” perpetrated by Iyer in “Three Fragments.” Time turns elastic in Iyer’s wonderful work, accelerating and decelerating within sections of the band so that the horns, for example, might suddenly appear to be floating untethered above the rhythm section. With its woozy opening section and cyclonic finale, Iyer’s work felt anything but fragmented.

Inspired loosely by the old saw that being paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t following you, David T. Little’s “Conspiracy Theory” began with ominous thunderclouds that built up in big brassy layers to a berserk cataclysmic conclusion (aluminum-foil hat tip to Sebastian Noelle’s flying-saucer guitar). Argue’s new “Ferromagnetic” had a different sort of political thrust, inspired as it was by the misadventures of former Blackwater chairman Erik Prince—who, as the composer pointed out, now resides in Dubai, where he’s reportedly training 2,000 Somalis for anti-pirate operations. Prince’s passion was represented with a kind of faux-Egyptian march reminiscent of Sun Ra’s pharaonic works, only more martial. Did it represent capital’s inexorable will to power, the righteous forces of opposition, or both? There’s plenty of secrets to ponder in this tale of plunder, which to me sounds like a perfect Next Wave proposal.

Secret Society’s Brooklyn Babylon suite took an already condensed work and made it even more precise. Minus Zezelj’s brooding visuals, Argue’s instrumental story of an architect commissioned to build a carousel on top of Brooklyn’s highest building seemed to breathe a little easier. A resonant pastiche of Eastern European oompah, heart-tugging symphonic colorings, and Ellingtonian flourishes, it sounds as though it’s been around for a lot longer than it has. Removed from BAM, just around the corner from Atlantic Yards, and reset amid the weird little pools of water in Galapagos, Argue’s meditation on gentrification reflects Brooklyns past, present, and future.

Critical bias: Is Darcy James Argue still down with the whole steampunk thing? I hope so.

Overheard: “Can I get you another?”

Random notebook dump: Argue’s teacher/mentor, the late Bob Brookmeyer, would be proud.

Set list:
Conspiracy Theory
Brooklyn Babylon Suite
Three Fragments

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