Brooklyn Babylon (New Amsterdam)
by Steve Hicken
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society made an impressive debut with Infernal Machines in 2009. Machines features tightly-written and expansively-played charts with memorable melodies and rich harmonies—”Phobos,” the opening track, is a favorite of mine.
The music on the Society’s new disc, Brooklyn Babylon, began life as the musical component of a multimedia celebration of the eponymous borough. The disc consists of 17 sections, some only a minute or so long, others over five minutes. Argue’s compositions are eclectic, partaking of a wide variety of styles and techniques, including melodies that sound like ethnic street music, acid guitar solos, and post-minimalist moves that are very much at home on the New Amsterdam label.
As a former trombonist, I have to admit that Ryan Keberle‘s work in the first interlude (“Infuse”) is a highlight of the record for me. What strikes me most on both this program and Infernal Machines is Argue’s feel for big band orchestration. When he is after luxurious harmonic progressions, the blend of the instruments is spectacular, and that’s not as easy to do as it may sound. At other times, the colors are as distinct as they can be. If you are a fan of big band jazz and want to see it flourish, you need this disc.
Stream the whole album on Bandcamp: