By Ed Enright | Published October 2023
Each track on this new double disc from Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society stands as a marvel of musical architecture, a self-contained miniverse populated by conspiring ensemble players and ace soloists. Seven of the 11 expansive compositions presented here are commissioned works that Argue originally wrote for various orchestras, arts organizations and festivals: Teeming with optimism and built upon minimalist foundations, these far-ranging and ultimately cohesive works include the Dave Pietro soprano saxophone feature “Ebonite” and the improv-laden, Ellington-inspired “Tensile Curves” (both for the Hard Rubber New Music Society with support from the Canada Council for the Arts), “Last Waltz For Levon” (for the Danish Radio Big Band), the Bob Brookmeyer dedication “Wingèd Beasts” (for New England Conservatory) with its softly dissonant passages, and the binary-gone-berserk “Codebreaking” (for the West Point Jazz Knights) written in honor of the British mathematician and early computer scientist Alan Turing. What you might consider the title track, opener “Dymaxion” — featuring a propulsive, high-climbing bari sax solo from Carl Maraghi — is Argue’s dedication to American architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, whose philosophy of “doing more with less” seems to manifest as an underlying substrate for the entire album. “All In,” which Argue composed in memory of the late big band stalwart Laurie Frink, basks in full-ensemble density in support of Nadje Noordhuis’ sensitive and intense trumpet solo. “Your Enemies Are Asleep,” a statement of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, rumbles like an approaching storm of military destruction, its recurrent three-note motif signaling impending doom and raising tension levels so high you might feel ready to strangle Argue the arranger; to my ears, this is clearly the intention of Argue the artist. “Ferromagnetic” begins adrift with nebula-like clouds and swirls of scattered sounds, until the rocking electric guitar of herder Sebastian Noelle pulls it all together with what feels like unifying gravitational force, setting the table for Matt Holman’s effects-processed trumpet solo. Album closer “Mae West: Advice” (with Paisley Rekdal’s lyrics sung by Cécile McLorin Salvant) is the closest the Secret Society comes to traditional big band swing and song form, ending the program on an upbeat note that gives listeners a bit of palate-cleansing levity as they head back into their own personal universes to digest and ponder the full Dynamic Maximum Tension experience.