Darcy James Argue was one of 2009’s most talked-about jazz musicians thanks to the phenomenal critical response to Infernal Machines, his debut recording featuring his 18-piece bigband, Secret Society. That response included a series of features in jazz and non-jazz publications alike, multiple nominations at the 2009 Jazz Journalists Association Awards, and Infernal Machines’ presence on more than 70 best-of-the year lists, including Best Debut honors in the prestigious Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll. Adding to the mystique were high profile concerts in New York as well as Germany, The Netherlands, and his native Canada.
Critics have credited him with developing “a nearly perfect creative synthesis between tradition and innovation” (John Eyles, BBC.com), calling his compositions “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” (Juan Rodriguez, Montreal Gazette) and noting his “big, broad musical vocabulary” (Ben Ratliff, New York Times). Time Out New York’s Hank Shteamer adds, “Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music” in a way that “handily transcends pastiche.”
Formed in 2005, Secret Society evokes an alternate musical history in which the dance orchestras that ruled the Swing Era never went extinct, but remained a popular and vital part of the evolving musical landscape. Adopting a steampunk-inspired attitude towards the traditional big band, Argue refashions this well-worn instrumentation into a cutting-edge ensemble. The band’s first studio recording, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam Records) takes its name from a John Philip Sousa quote about the dangers of music technology. Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls praised the album as “a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future” and Time Out New York’s David R. Adler awarded it five stars and proclaimed it “a seven-track marvel of imagination.” In his feature article on Argue for the Village Voice, Richard Gehr called it “maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head.”
Following the release of Infernal Machines, Secret Society embarked on its first European tour, which included an appearance at the famed Moers Festival in Germany — a performance hailed by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger’s Martin Woltersdorf as “one of the highlights of the 38th annual festival.” Their June 2009 concert at Philadelphia’s International House was featured in an episode of WHYY-TV’s On Canvas. Secret Society was the first group to be announced for George Wein’s 2010 Newport Jazz Festival.
A native of Vancouver, and former member of the Montreal jazz scene, Argue moved to Brooklyn in 2003 after earning a Master’s Degree in Boston while studying with legendary composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer. He has also studied with Lee Hyla, Randall Woolf, Maria Schneider and John Hollenbeck. His awards include the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Composition Prize and the SOCAN/CAJE Phil Nimmons Emerging Composer Award and he has received grants from the Jerome Foundation, the American Music Center, Meet The Composer, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and the Canada Council for the Arts, among others.