Darcy James Argue's Secret Society Live From Newport
The composer Darcy James Argue has steadily been rescuing the big band from the dustbin of anachronism through a combination of enormously open ears and a gigantic well of patience. But it's paying off: After the release of his debut album Infernal Machines, the greatness of the Secret Society became an open secret, and his "co-conspirators" have now recorded a much-anticipated sophomore album. Eighteen of them give us a taste, including a peek at the Brooklyn Babylon project, originally designed for live music and live painting.
Like his countryman Pedrito Martinez (also appearing at Newport this year), drummer Dafnis Prieto came over from Cuba around the turn of the century — promptly placing every rhythm section in New York City on notice. His next-level understanding of the clave, combined with his seeming willingness to try anything that grooves, led to his nomination as a MacArthur Fellow last year. That cast of mind powering a sextet with horns will prove volatile, as it did on his 2008 album Taking The Soul For A Walk.
The great drummer turns 70 during the week following the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival, but he's certainly not going quietly into retirement age. Lately, he's been leading a quintet which combines a brilliant saxophonist fluent in South Asian music (Rudresh Mahanthappa), an electric guitarist known for microtonal experiments (Dave Fiuczynski) and the combination of keyboards (George Colligan) and acoustic bass guitar (Jerome Harris). DeJohnette was with Miles Davis at Newport in 1969; good to know he hasn't lost his mentor's adventurous spirit.
Since he came over from Cuba around the turn of the century, the phenomenally talented percussionist Pedrito Martinez has become the conguero of choice for scores of bands. And most weeks in New York City, you can see him with his own, gigging several nights a week at a Cuban restaurant south of Central Park. The Pedrito Martinez Group places him at the congas and behind a microphone, where he exhibits a certain natural charisma. And though we haven't yet heard a studio album from the band, we already know that it goes way beyond what you'd think of Afro-Cuban music and/or jazz.
The tenor saxophonist John Ellis is a commanding instrumentalist with a most gorgeous, carmelized tone. And though he now lives in New York, his band gives away the fact that he learned an awful lot in New Orleans. A chunk of Double-Wide lives there — notably, Matt Perrine (sousaphone) and Jason Marsalis (drums) — and the Crescent City's carnivalesque and high-stepping timbres are refracted through Ellis' tunes. You can take the boy out of the South, but you can't take the South out of his musical vision.
Viola da gamba players are a special breed — a tiny subset in the already small world of early classical music. They rarely meet their own kind, but once a year they come together for a week in July at an annual jam session they call a conclave. Wendy Gillespie, who just finished her term as president of the Viola da Gamba Society of America, says attending the event is the highlight of her year.
The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet has been serenading audiences in its native Washington, D.C., across the country and even as far as France for more than two decades. But its members are finding ways to bring something new to their performances. Bandleader and co-founder Ginny Carr says she wrote the words and music to all 10 songs on the quartet's new album, Hustlin' for a Gig — a relative rarity in a jazz world defined by time-tested standards.
James McMurtry's career started hot, thanks to a lucky series of circumstances in 1987. First, at a friend's behest, he entered and won a high-profile songwriting competition. Then, when John Mellencamp got involved in a project written by McMurtry's father (the novelist Larry McMurtry), it gave the young folk-rock musician a chance to get his demo tape into Mellencamp's hands.