Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue, a seven-time winner in the DownBeat Critics Poll, is credited with “making the big band cool again” (Time Out New York) and “reinventing the jazz big band for the 21st century” (John L. Walters, The Guardian). Active in New York with his 18-piece ensemble Secret Society since 2005, the Vancouver native first gained international recognition with his widely acclaimed 2009 debut, Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam Records), which appeared on over 100 best-of-the-year lists, earned GRAMMY and JUNO nominations, and quickly made him one of the most talked about musicians in jazz.
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In addition to appearances at venues ranging from jazz and rock clubs to theaters including Merkin Hall, The Kennedy Center, and Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, the group has also performed at the Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver Jazz Festivals, the Ecstatic Music Festival, the London Jazz Festival, the Moers Festival, New York’s Winter Jazzfest, the Newport Jazz Festival, and Brazil’s BMW Jazz Festival. Argue premiered Brooklyn Babylon, an innovative multimedia collaboration with graphic artist Danijel Zezelj, over the course of four nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2011, and recorded the music for a highly praised sophomore release, also on New Amsterdam Records.
Critics have credited Argue with developing “a nearly perfect creative synthesis between tradition and innovation” (John Eyles, BBC.com), citing his “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” compositions (Juan Rodriguez, Montreal Gazette) and celebrating his “sense of energy and renewal” (Ben Ratliff, New York Times). Time Out New York’s Hank Shteamer adds, “Argue draws on the full spectrum of modern rock, jazz and classical music” in a way that “handily transcends pastiche.” The band’s first studio recording, Infernal Machines, is described by Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls as “a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future.” The Village Voice’s Richard Gehr calls it “maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head.” Studio 360′s David Krasnow calls their follow-up, Brooklyn Babylon, “A masterpiece… a new work of originality, power, and beauty.”
Secret Society’s performances have been celebrated for their “slashing fury and awesome full-ensemble precision” (David Adler, The New York City Jazz Record). The band’s Canadian tour drew notice for its “brilliant soundscapes” (J.D. Considine, Globe and Mail) and “gorgeous musical details, maneuvers and transformations” (Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen). Their London Jazz Festival debut was declared “a contender for gig of the year” by John L. Walters in The Guardian, and their performance at the Moers Festival in Germany was hailed by the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger’s Martin Woltersdorf as “one of the highlights of the 38th annual festival.”
Argue’s awards include the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop Charlie Parker Composition Prize and SOCAN’s Hagood Hardy Award. He has received commissions from the Danish Radio Big Band, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the West Point Jazz Knights, the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos, The Jazz Gallery, the Manhattan New Music Project, and the Jerome Foundation, as well as grants and fellowships from New Music USA, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony. He is a 2013 fellow in Music/Sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts.