Darcy James Argue Secret Society

Real Enemies
New Amsterdam Records NWAM081.

By Ken Waxman

Taking the title as satirically as it’s meant to be, Real Enemies is an extended multi-media meditation on paranoia and conspiracy theories – and you can dance to it. Created by Vancouver-born composer Darcy James Argue and interpreted by 18 of New York’s top improvisers, the 13 tracks delve into all manner of 20th and 21st Century conspiracy theories ranging from subversive Communist threats to UFO sightings. Besides perceptive sonic pinpoints added by a slew of soloist, the thesis is amplified by narration taken from various books on the subject read by actor James Urbaniak as well as speeches and mediations on, and denials of, the subjects from figures as different as John F. Kennedy and Dick Cheney. As for the dancing part, when the band cuts lose on tracks such as “Dark Alliance” and “Casus Belli”, stuttering trombone blats from either Ryan Keberle or Mike Fahie evolving atop a Mambo-styled backbeat courtesy of Matt Clohesy’s electric bass thumb pops and Jon Wikan’s percussion slaps build up to a rhythm that’s half Motown and half-Mexican, allowing the music to swing, even despite ponderous speeches about 9-11 on the second tune.

Echoes of the terpsichorean part of this Dance Macabre are obvious even on pieces such as the sardonically titled “Best Friends Forever”. Elevated tones from the drums and Adam Birnbaum’s tinkling electric piano fills gradually become speedier to reflect the growing paranoia personified in Rob Wilkerson’s staccato alto saxophone solo. Throughout the compositions undulate with sophisticated time and tempo changes as asides ranging from piccolo peeps to Ingrid Jensen’s plunger trumpet explosions to Sam Sadigursky’s snarling saxophone riffs succinctly underline and challenge the concept of spreading menace reflected in many of the voiced sentiments. Argue’s skill as an orchestrator has added a dollop of musical skillfulness to these paranoid delusions. That the suite wraps up with a repetition of its extended introduction, adds a positive musical undercurrent to the depressing thesis that has been illustrated throughout. It also confirms Real Enemies most memorable qualities.

-For MusicWorks #127 Spring 2017