I've been listening to a lot of really cool music lately, some of which I haven't even blogged about yet. But a few nights ago, a friend turned me onto what might end up being some of my favorite new music of the year: Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. A native of Canada who now calls New York home, Argue writes fresh-sounding charts that are influenced by Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer (two of his former instructors) while also containing elements of both Steve Reich-ish minimalism and some skronky rock guitar thrown in. Drawing on the myriad talent floating around New York (including the husband-and-wife team of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and drummer Jon Wikan, along with UNT alum Rob Wilkerson), Argue has put together something special here--music that's truly beyond category.
I could go on and on about how cool this music is, but I'd rather let it speak for itself: Go to the audio archives page of the Secret Society site and have a listen. Argue has posted mp3's of many of the band's live performances, and entire shows can be downloaded for free as ZIP files. I already have a few shows gracing my iTunes and iPod, and I haven't been able to stop listening to them all week. (My favorite tunes so far are "Transit" and the two that my friend initially suggested, "Habeas Corpus" and "Ritual," but there isn't a dud in the bunch.) I sure hope to be able to see this group sometime (if only I could make it to Toronto for IAJE this year!), and I'll happily snap up any CD that comes out down the road.
Reviewer Steve Smith noted in his blog that "Argue's charts are smart and tuneful, tough on players, and incredibly gracious to listeners. And some bright publisher should be pushing his compositions to college jazz bands -- hard. I know I'd have killed to play music like this." Yeah, me too. And I should note that it's already happened at least once; my friend who turned me onto Argue's music was himself exposed to it by a recent performance by the Rep Ensemble at UNT--a performance that I'm now kicking myself for missing. (And I'll need to check out the other composers featured in that concert somewhere down the road...but Argue's compositions have become quite the post-Thanksgiving banquet for the moment.)
Do I need to emphasize any more that you need to check out this music? Go. Now. I'll still be here when you get back, and then we can talk about it together.
The age of steam(punk): Some have described Secret Society as a "steampunk big band." I wasn't familiar with the steampunk movement, but learning about it is an interesting side trip, especially while listening to Secret Society. Lots of info can be found here, here, and here.