Darcy James Argue's Secret Society sound sinister and sublime at Kings Place

 TD-Darcy-James-Argue-Solo

There are very few composers now writing world class material for big band, true innovators who are taking the music forward. One of them is Gil Evans' protege Maria Schneider, whose appearance at the London Jazz Festival in 2015 was a major highlight. Another is the Vancouver-born Brooklyn-based bandleader Darcy James Argue. On the face of it their music couldn't be more different. Schneider's Grammy-winning latest release, The Thompson Fields, was inspired by the prairies of Minnesota. Argue's music is typically gritty, urban and angular, all crunchy harmonies and thrashing alt rock grooves.

At Kings Place on Friday night, making his first appearance in the UK since 2010, Argue led his 18-piece Secret Society big band through Real Enemies, a masterpiece of contemporary repertoire, inspired by conspiracy theories and the politics of paranoia and written using an adapted version of Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone technique, which was once subject to a conspiracy theory of its own. The suite opened with noirish textures, tentative stabs that rippled around the ensemble and darkly luminous harmonies. As the music seesawed between nagging unease and hysterical panic we also heard the first of many atmospheric snippets of recorded speech from the likes of Frank Church, Dick Cheney and JFK.

Across 13-chapters, Real Enemies indulges in all kinds of paranoia, including references to the Red Scare, Area 51 and the Illuminati, and there were ingenious shifts of genre and feel to match the changes of subject matter. Midway through 'Dark Alliance', with the band knee-deep in the squelchy bass of a 1980s hip hop funk groove and the voice of Nancy Reagan pontificating about the evils of drugs, there was a sudden ironic kick to Nicaraguan son. Despite waging a domestic war on narcotics, the Reagan administration famously turned a blind eye to the drug trafficking of their Contra allies, in an effort to stop Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution.

TD-Darcy-James-Argue-Band

The range of different colours and textures Argue gets from the ensemble is astonishing. Throughout the performance pairs of soloists, including tenorist Lucas Pino and guitarist Sebastian Noelle, shared the melodies and drove the narrative along with visceral improvisations. 'Apocalypse In Process', an exploration of doomsday cults, brought weedling pipe organ and frail woodwinds that evoked the sound of early music. And an edgy, pecked motif (the sort of thing that puts you in mind of secret rendezvouses in rainwashed alleyways between men with briefcases and fedoras) regularly reared its head, played by muted trumpets into the open lid of the piano.

There were some huge moments, heralded by screaming alarm calls and ensemble hits that snapped your head back with all the devastating force of an assassin's bullet, but there was reams of subtle ingenuity too. 'The Hidden Hand' featured a stunning passage when syncopated stabs from the band punctuated JFK's 1961 Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, in which he talks of a "monolithic and ruthless conspiracy". It's a bravura piece of large ensemble writing that proves just how nimble a big band can be in the right hands.

Real Enemies debuted as a multimedia performance in 2015, which featured a mosaic of video screens and a giant doomsday clock. It was written when President Trump was still just a twinkle in the alt-right's eye. It's an unhappy coincidence that the themes the suite explores are so topical once again. It doesn't need the visuals, but we got a few all the same. When the finale arrived, soloist after soloist piled in until the whole band were on their feet – a ripple effect like the spread of a seductive conspiracy theory. And midway through, as a blazing Carl Maraghi baritone solo melted into spectral ambience, Argue turned to face the audience. Black suited, hair slicked back, face half illuminated and half in shadow, he looked like the leader of his own sinister cult.

The recording of Real Enemies was one of my albums of 2016. I didn't know if I'd ever get to hear it live. It's so profoundly unprofitable and logistically tortuous to run a big band these days, let alone rehearse one and take it on the road, it was a minor miracle to see the Secret Society in the UK. We have to support this music or it will simply disappear. Which is why it was so gutting to see the hall half empty and so heartwarming to see everyone on their feet at the end, applauding furiously. Though Argue is revered by musicians and those in the know, he still doesn't have the public profile he deserves, and it was a late one (10pm start). Still, that can't be the whole story, can it? Why would anyone want to miss this? It's enough to set your mind racing.

– Thomas Rees
– Photos by Tim Dickeson

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklectik date this weekend

Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklect…

Three of the key figures on London's improv scene –...

Read More.....
Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/03/42 – 16/08/18

Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/…

  As far as monikers go, 'Lady Soul' may well have...

Read More.....
'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary

'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th …

Photographer Art Kane's legendary jazz photograph 'Harlem – 1958', commonly...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson for Kinch’s Flyover Show

Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson…

Soweto Kinch's free one-day arts festival, The Flyover Show, returns...

Read More.....
Steely Dan tributes and basses high at Sligo Jazz Project

Steely Dan tributes and basses high at S…

In a week of outstanding musical offerings in Sligo, perhaps...

Read More.....
Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld mystery and drama with McCaslin at Molde

Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld…

  Molde might be a small coastal town in western Norway...

Read More.....
John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite radical organ trio template at Jazz em Agosto

John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite r…

King Crimson and tech-death titans such as Cynic and Atheist...

Read More.....
Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken for SymphRONica Scottish sojourn

Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken f…

Canadian pianist Ron Davis (above left) has enlisted the Scottish...

Read More.....
Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick Corea Akoustic Trio create magic in Malta

Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick C…

If Valletta's sun-baked limestone is a constant reminder of Malta's...

Read More.....
Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2018

Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2…

In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer...

Read More.....
Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor all comers with Mayweather-style beat magic

Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor …

They say that writing about music is like dancing about...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Titans kick out the cool at Montreal Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Ti…

Canadians are patronisingly characterised in the US as 'over-polite' but...

Read More.....
Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with album and graphic novel

Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with…

Iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter is set to make a dramatic...

Read More.....
Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's Brighton Dome bonanza

Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's …

  Day-trippers pour out of the trains in their hundreds, heading...

Read More.....
Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brighton Alt Bash

Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brigh…

The south coast's premier experimental music symposium – the Brighton...

Read More.....
Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom with live dates

Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom wi…

Electronica jazz trio Szun Waves release their second album, New...

Read More.....
Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

US saxophonist Donny McCaslin follows the breakthrough success of 2016's...

Read More.....
PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now open for applications

PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now o…

The PRS Foundation's Momentum Music Fund has helped the likes...

Read More.....
Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten with video and tour

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten w…

Manchester's mighty Beats & Pieces Big Band continue their yearlong...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy Celebrate Brooklyn blow-out

Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy …

The history of collectives in jazz are nearly as old...

Read More.....
Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....
Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

One of the UK's foremost drummers and bandleaders, Jon Hiseman...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Elling elegantly elliptical at Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Fest https://t.co/HbkYnrCfYb @EdinburghJazz @RealKurtElling… https://t.co/nNAoD6lp7p
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
The September issue of Jazzwise is on sale now - subscribe today to get your copy, save money and get a Jazzland CD… https://t.co/nL6svwJ5RT
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA