“For a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue” — so says Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls. The Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader has toured nationally and internationally with his 18-piece ensemble, Secret Society, garnering countless awards and nominations and reimagining what a 21st-century big band can sound like. “It’s maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head” writes Richard Gehr in the Village Voice. Stereophile’s Fred Kaplan adds “Argue is tying together the disparate strands of music that have shaped his life and his rambling era.”
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Argue made his mark with his critically acclaimed 2009 debut Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam Records). 2013 saw the release of Brooklyn Babylon (also from New Amsterdam), which, like Infernal Machines before it, earned the group nominations for both GRAMMY and JUNO Awards. Argue and Secret Society have continued to net accolades, including topping the Big Band category in the 2015 DownBeat Critics Poll.
Proclaimed the “Best Album of 2013… almost crazily ambitious music about ambition itself,” by The New Republic’s David Hadju, Brooklyn Babylon tells the tale of Lev Bezdomni, a carpenter in a future Brooklyn, who is tasked with building the carousel that will crown the tallest tower in the world — it’s an urban fable about an artist torn between his ambition and his connection to the people in his neighborhood. The album grew out of a multimedia work Argue co-created with graphic novelist and illustrator Danijel Zezelj for the 2011 BAM Next Wave Festival. Live music, live painting, and projected animation combined to create a uniquely immersive experience that Studio 360’s David Krasnow called “a masterpiece… a new work of originality, power, and beauty.” The multimedia performance was next staged at the 2013 Holland Festival, a production Eye Magazine’s John L. Walters called “a triumph… a multimedia magnum opus.”
In addition to their two recordings, Secret Society has been busy on the road, with Brazilian, European, and Canadian tours, global festival performances, and three appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival, where they premiered the 35-minute extended work Tensile Curves, in honor of the festival’s 60th anniversary.
Secret Society’s performances have been celebrated for their “slashing fury and awesome full-ensemble precision” (The New York City Jazz Record), “brilliant soundscapes” (Globe and Mail) and “gorgeous musical details, maneuvers and transformations” (Ottawa Citizen). Their London Jazz Festival debut was declared “a contender for gig of the year” by The Guardian, and their performance at the Moers Festival in Germany was hailed by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger as “one of the highlights of the 38th annual festival.”
In addition to his work with Secret Society, Argue has toured Australia and New Zealand leading the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra and was featured in the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos’ inaugural international Jazz Composers Forum. He has led performances of his music by the WDR Big Band, the Danish Radio Big Band, the Frankfurt Radio Bigband, the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, the Big Band Palácio das Artes, and the West Point Jazz Knights. Argue has composed works for chamber duo and string quartet, art songs for Newspeak, and created arrangements for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted residencies and workshops at the University of North Texas, McGill, Cornish College, Western Connecticut State University, and with the Western Australian Jazz Youth Orchestra, among others. In 2012, he was composer-in-residence for Missouri State University’s annual Composition Festival.
In 2015, Argue was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He has received commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, the Jazz Gallery, the Manhattan New Music Project, the Jerome Foundation, and BAM, as well as ensembles including the Danish Radio Big Band, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the West Point Jazz Knights, and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. He is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, New Music USA, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony.