Thursday, July 02, 2009

Darcy James Argue - Infernal Machines (New Amsterdam, 2009)

Composer and bandleader Argue's "Steampunk" ensemble, an 18 piece jazz orchestra, references an older age but in fact is at the cutting edge of large scale modern jazz. Like kindred spirit Maria Schneider, Argue's projects are triumphs of DIY perseverance and they explore large swaths of music, blurring boundaries and erasing previous conceptions of what a jazz "big band" is today. The music is predicated on subtlety, shading and diverse musical colors, at times it made me think of landscape paintings and murals where large swaths of color are at work. "Phobos" opens the album with percussion, before the music builds majestically to a tenor saxophone solo backed by excellent drumming and supporting horns. The music drifts into a quasi-classical portion before electric guitar heightens the mood. "Zeno" has mild trumpet over ensemble passages, a trombone feature and the arrangement give the music a nod in the direction of influential arranger and composer Bob Brookmeyer. "Transit" has a hearty and complex horn riff arrangement and features a strong and fast trumpet solo, backed by the fellow horns to an exciting climax. "Redeye" slows things down to a gauzy, spaced-out improvisation, and "Jacobin Club" has subtle horn arrangements and an intricate trombone solo. "Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)" has an ominous quasi-classical feel in its first half before the pace picks up around a backbeat accompanied by trombone and electric guitar. "Obsidian Flow" rounds out the album with fine tenor saxophone over a colorful background arrangement building to a strong and exciting conclusion. While there are several excellent solos in the album, on the whole, it is the bands ensemble playing of the unique compositions and arrangements that was most impressive, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts in providing an inspiring view into the possibilities of jazz on a grand scale.
Infernal Machines -

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