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Brooklyn Babylon

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society records music from their acclaimed multimedia performance, Brooklyn Babylon


Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue and his innovative 18-piece big band Secret Society has released their highly anticipated sophomore album, Brooklyn Babylon, April 3oth, 2013 on New Amsterdam Records. The follow-up to their critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated debut, Infernal Machines (2009), Brooklyn Babylon shows Argue “expanding his sonic palette as never before” (Tad Hendrickson, Wall Street Journal).

Weaving together progressive jazz, early-American popular styles, Balkan folk musics, and the sounds of Brooklyn’s diverse contemporary music scene — from the dance-punk of LCD Soundsystem and experimental indie rock of Dirty Projectors to Missy Mazzoli’s blend of post-rock and quirky minimalism — Argue creates a vividly evocative musical narrative that is at once timeless and unlike anything heard before. Argue’s Secret Society is one of the most admired ensembles in contemporary jazz, having toured in Europe, Brazil, and North America and been twice featured at the Newport Jazz Festival. Its members include in-demand instrumentalists such as John Ellis, Ingrid Jensen, Ryan Keberle, and Sam Sadigursky.

Brooklyn Babylon was conceived in collaboration with Croatian-born visual artist Danijel Zezelj, whose narrative inspired Argue’s mash-up of musical styles. Zezelj’s artwork places the action in a larger-than-life, mythic Brooklyn, where past, present, and future coexist. Plans are afoot to construct an immense tower — the tallest in the world — right in the heart of the city. Lev Bezdomni, a master carpenter, finds himself torn between his personal ambition and his allegiance to the community when he is commissioned to build the carousel that will crown it.

Premiered to wide acclaim at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2011, Brooklyn Babylon is a long-form, structurally-integrated work combining Zezelj’s animation and live painting with Argue’s music. But like great stage works, such as Stravinksy’s Petrushka or Debussy’s Jeux, the composition works powerfully on its own.

The 53-minute work shows Argue taking a novelistic approach to long-form composition: a prologue, eight chapters separated by brief interludes, and an epilogue. The album opens with the actual sounds of Brooklyn — a sonic collage of recordings of the borough captured on Argue’s portable digital recorder. The ensemble gradually comes into focus and introduces the Prologue, from which every subsequent musical theme in Brooklyn Babylon derives.  Argue reconfigures these themes using a broad array of techniques, inflected by contemporary indie rock, classical music, and jazz, particularly from the often maligned 1970s: the earthy avant-garde of Dewey Redman and Lester Bowie; the intricate large-ensemble sounds of Thad Jones and Don Ellis; and the sophisticated populism of Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Waltzes, marches and fairground carousels also fold into the mix.

Brooklyn Babylon was recorded June 19-21, 2012 at NYC’s legendary Avatar Studios. The recording was mixed and co-produced by Brian Montgomery (John Hollenbeck, Esperanza Spalding, Elvis Costello, Donald Fagen, Paul McCartney). A limited-edition hardcover graphic novel by Danjiel Zezelj, entitled Babilon, will be available in conjunction with the release. This work contains over 100 pages of brand new black and white illustrations, bringing the story of Brooklyn Babylon to a new medium.

Project Media

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Features: Darcy James Argue

Chapter 4 of Brooklyn Babylon, “Construction + Destruction,” begins with a series of harmonies that are gradually distended and pulled apart, eventually segueing into an insistent, sinewy rock groove, with overlapping soloing by John Ellis (tenor sax) and Ryan Keberle (trombone). After a hard break, the initial harmonic progression makes a brief reappearance before being swallowed up by dissonant low-register stabs and blurry midrange tremolos.

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Features: Darcy James Argue

Chapter 5 of Brooklyn Babylon, “Builders,” is in two parts. The first features Ingrid Jensen on electronically processed trumpet, soloing over a slow, grinding vamp that is gradually transformed via a series of deceptive metric modulations which affect some instruments but not others. The second part features Sam Sadigursky on clarinet, in a nightmarish parody of Brooklyn Babylon’s “carousel theme.”

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Features: Darcy James Argue

This between-chapters Interlude, “Arise” is looser and more improvisatory than the previous two work samples. It features an odd-meter, quasi-Balkan groove supporting collective soloing from the ensemble.

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

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Brooklyn, New York
“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…


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