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As we re-release these two sets from Newport, saxophonist John Ellis (leader of one, player in the other) is leading workshops in Portugal and Italy. Darcy James Argue has released a studio recording of Brooklyn Babylon, and his Secret Society tied with the Maria Schneider Orchestra for the Big Band of 2013 in the just-out DownBeat Critics Poll. As Ellis blogs about Argue, "[He] is a force of nature: equally impressive as a composer, orchestrator, bandleader, philosopher, cultural critic, internet blogger, booking agent, historian, writer, reader, and listener; he seems to be made for these times."
Brooklyn, N.Y., is the current home of John Ellis — raised in North Carolina and once a student in New Orleans — and Darcy James Argue, from Canada and once a student in Boston. They're both on the main stage at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival.
The son of a preacher in North Carolina, tenor saxophonist Ellis made a pivot in New Orleans to funk with an original twist. He opens JazzSet from Newport with an off-kilter tango and funhouse-influenced piece. "Dubinland Carnival" gives the accordionist space to shine. The double bass provided by the organ pedals and sousaphone together give Double-Wide its name. The sousaphone and drums imply a parade, even in "This Too Shall Pass," Ellis' composition for his beloved grandfather. His tenor and the trombone are the front line. Double-Wide's albums have great names: Dance Like There's No Tomorrow and Puppet Mischief.
John Ellis, tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber, trombone; Gary Versace, organ and accordion; Matt Perrine, sousaphone; Jason Marsalis, drums.
Brooklyn Academy of Music, better known as BAM, commissioned the next piece and staged it in 2011. Brooklyn Babylon is a multimedia work by Darcy James Argue (formerly a student of NEA Jazz Master composer Bob Brookmeyer) and the graphic artist and comic-book illustrator Danijel Zezelj, born in Croatia. At BAM, Zezelj painted live during the performance as his animated sequences were projected overhead. The musicians, dressed in workmen's caps and overalls, stood on risers in a circle. As Argue conducted the amazing music, the orchestra played its heart out.
At Newport, without the visuals, Argue gives a synopsis of the story, and then the Secret Society plays a suite of three movements and two interludes. It's like a dream with real-world references. Then, the listener's mind comes up with other touchstones — John Philip Sousa, a kazoo band, memories of Lewis Hine's photos of the construction of the Empire State Building. Perhaps you'll have different associations as you listen to the extraordinary music of Brooklyn Babylon.
Darcy James Argue, composer/conductor; Erica von Kleist, woodwinds; Rob Wilkerson, woodwinds; Sam Sadigursky, tenor saxophone/woodwinds; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/woodwinds; Josh Sinton, baritone saxophone/woodwinds; Seneca Black, trumpet; Tom Goehring, trumpet; Matt Holman, trumpet; Nadje Noordhuis, trumpet; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Mike Fahie, trombone; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; James Hirschfeld, trombone; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone/tuba; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; Gordon Webster, piano; Matt Clohesy, bass; Jon Wikan, drums/percussion.
Recording by Steve Remote of Aurasonic Ltd., Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos.