Darcy James Argue’s Terrific Thrill: A staggeringly ambitious album explores the themes of cultural paranoia and false truth

David Hajdu in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2399 Nov. 27 21.41I cannot imagine a work in any art form that could evoke the particular madness of our time with more potency than Real Enemies, the album of jazz-orchestra music released this fall by the Brooklyn-based, Canadian-born composer Darcy James Argue. Conceived more than a year before this November’s presidential election, it was not intended as a statement on Trumpism explicitly. Rather, it was designed to explore the broader themes of cultural paranoia and false truth, which infuse the current climate and have laced through the history of American politics. Real Enemies is sweeping and meticulous, as serious as music can be, and, at the same time, a terrific thrill to experience.

Argue efficiently established his reputation as a major musical voice with his two previous albums, Infernal Machines (2009) and Brooklyn Babylon (2013), both of which were composed for and recorded by Argue’s ongoing ensemble, the 18-piece band called Secret Society. The group, by nature of its instrumentation, qualifies as a jazz big band, though the music is not big-band jazz by a definition Count Basie or Buddy Rich would have used. The Secret Society rarely swings in the traditional way, though it can cook up a sly, churning funk groove when Argue wants it to. If Argue’s society of 21st-century virtuosos has a secret, it’s the fact that it could be a ballroom band with all the pizzazz of, say, Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, if it had a leader less creative and forward-thinking than Darcy James Argue.

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