Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society at Dizzy’s 5/2/18 (by Dan Lehner)

PERSONNEL: Dave Pietro, Rob Wilkerson, Sam Sadigursky, John Ellis, Brian Landrus (saxes and reeds); Seneca Black, Sam Hoyt, Matt Holman, Josh Deutsch, David Smith (trumpets); Mike Fahie, Ryan Keberle, Kalia Vandever, Jennifer Wharton (trombones); Sebastian Noelle (guitar); Adam Birnbaum (piano); Matt Clohesy (bass); Jon Wikan (drums)

SET LIST: “Blowout Prevention,” “Chrysalis,” “Tensile Curves” (all by Darcy James Argue)

HIGHLIGHTS: Argue’s epic “Tensile Curves” embodied the spirit of Duke’s “Diminuendo in Blue” with 40 straight minutes of complex, slowly unfolding writing that never felt laborious.

Bob Brookmeyer is a landmark modernist whose music is rarely heard outside of Monday nights at the Village Vanguard. However, his influence can be found everywhere in big band sounds from Jim McNeely, John Hollenbeck, Maria Schneider, Ted Nash, and many others, perhaps especially in Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society.  It was nice to hear the Society honor one of its forebearers and unpack some of its own musical DNA at Jazz at Lincoln Center: both sets were stocked with original compositions that Argue explicitly says were, “inspired by my mentor, Bob Brookmeyer.”

The Brookmeyerian tactic Argue used to greatest effect was the equalized, episodic use of solos and solo sections. Liberated of the subservience of long tones, the rhythmic backgrounds of “Blowout Prevention” bobbed and reacted in an arresting volley against Mike Fahie’s sharp and contemplative solo. “Chrysalis,” a pretty and pained ballad, contained some of Brookmeyer’s lush and complex extrapolations of melody; dovetailing harmonies dispersed like droplets of water, swelling into grandiosity before being stripped of all accoutrements at the last minute.

All of that seemed like a warm-up for “Tensile Curves,” a 40-minute tribute to “Diminuendo in Blue” that decreased not in volume but in metric time. Once again background-as-foreground was used to usher in new sections and solos (featuring nimble rhythms from Kalia Vandever, acerbic Wheelerian melodies from David Smith and harmonically rich clusters from John Ellis), but the sheer range and scope of the piece was staggering – bright rollicking swing, doom metal open intervals, irregular clave rhythms and classical arpeggios all unraveling in a slow-motion math equation.

In an interview with Ben Ratliff in 2006, Brookmeyer said part of his modus operandi was to see how long he extend his musicals thoughts without breaking the relationship to the listener. In this regard, Argue’s works are undoubtedly a success.

— by Dan Lehner