Desiring to be ensconced in an environment of music is a dream. Dreams can come true. And Darcy James Argue's band, Secret Society, catches those dreams in its first recorded effort. Taking its title from how John Philip Sousa described the phonograph at the turn of the 20th century, Infernal Machines articulates Argue's music well, in an orchestral mode, employing striking instrumental riffs, exquisite solos and exhibiting multi-instrumental, multi-faceted unity.
The musical hooks in this record are exceedingly strong. Starting outright with skillful captivating figures on a prepared drum kit that weaves through the entire first track ("Phobos"), the entire eighteen-piece ensemble proceeds to enter one instrumental group at a time, fluidly overlapping and building up to a peak where the brass takes over and the alto sax leads. Behind this lead, the ensemble opens up and in controlled swells, mounts a venture that turns downwards and bursts forth for a final recollected instrumental repetition closing with the drum riff that began the track.
This is music that is imbued with interpretation. The liner notes suggest a variety of avenues that can be pursued to correlate the way the music describes the titles. The music is not dark in color; it is tuneful. Single instruments push the evolution (the guitar, trombone and piano in "Zeno;" the trumpets in "Transit," the guitar in "Redeye," the bass, Rhodes piano, trumpet in "Habeas Corpus," the alto in "Obsidian Flow") of melodic content's shape as it winds through the surges and crescendos, repetitive phrases, downbeats and contrapuntal discussions carried on by the predominantly brass band.
The rhythm section is more than substantial ("Transit," "Redeye," Obsidian Flow"). It has to be, to reign in the ever-changing tonal courses that mostly the brass or the sound of the electronics follow for the purpose of making completely non-elusive musical statements. No questions can be posed as to what type of imaginative design Argue has created ("Redeye"), because the temperaments of the moments seduce and cultivate responses that know no bounds except for the limits imposed by the length of the particular pieces.
This record is not about being overly done. It is a clear example of how music can sound when all that the composer knows (jazz, rock, classical) is brought into action and fashions it well. Even if stark quoting of a well-known composition is used (Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians in "Habeas Corpus"), how that quote folds into the remainder of the composition is all that matters. As the quote from Pliny the Elder, associated with the last track, "Obsidian Flow," says of Obsian glass, even though "it is dull to sight....[it] reflects...the shadow of [an] object rather than the image."
Without doubt, Argue has courageously seized onto the concept of jazz orchestra and has metamorphosed the concept into an unforgettable realization. Fortunately, those "infernal machines" can play the recording over and over again.
Darcy James Argue: composer, conductor, ringleader; Erica vonKleist: flute, alto flute, soprano and alto saxophones; Rob Wilkerson: flute, clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones; Sam Sadigursky: clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones; Mark Small: clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Josh Sinton: clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone; Seneca Black: lead trumpet; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Laurie Frink: trumpet; Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet; Tom Goehring: trumpet; Ryan Keberle: trombone; Mike Fahie: trombone; James Hirschfeld: trombone; Jennifer Wharton: bass trombone; Sebastian Noelle: acoustic and electric guitars; Mike Holober: piano, electric piano; Matt Clohesy: contrabass, electric bass; Jon Wikan: drum set, cajon, pandeiro, miscellaneous percussion.