Sometime during the last millennium—maybe 1990, or perhaps 1991—Darcy James Argue stood in front of the roiling horns of the Hard Rubber Orchestra and had his life irrevocably changed.
“The first time I heard them they were playing an outdoor show in Gastown at the jazz festival,” says Argue, in a telephone interview from his home. “And it was really exciting. You know, it was a completely different experience, growing up in the pre-digital age, and so I’d never heard anything like it. They had some crazy Hendrix covers, and some really great incorporation of free and avant stuff into a really powerful and visceral big-band sound. It was pretty radically different from the stuff I’d been doing in my high-school big band, so I guess I was sort of like an instant convert.”
These days, Argue lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he leads a big band of his own, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society. Like local trumpeter John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber template, it mixes Latin rhythms with minimalist pulses, fuzzed-up electric guitars with a horn section Duke Ellington would have loved, and hints of vintage swing with a penchant for state-of-the-art multimedia undertakings. And if you’d like to compare and contrast the two units, look no further than an upcoming TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival concert in which the bands will share a stage.
Well, more than a stage, actually; for at least part of the night, both Hard Rubber and the Secret Society will also share a leader. In this rare return to his old hometown, Argue is going to get to conduct Hard Rubber in the premiere performance of a new, Canada Council–commissioned suite. At the time of our conversation, the 30-minute score was still a work in progress, but Argue says he’s feeling inspired by the opportunity to work with Korsrud’s troupe.
“There’s really great people in that band, including some people that I know from my McGill days, like Dave Robbins on drums. And then there are some other people that I know just from having grown up in Vancouver, like [percussionist] Jack Duncan and [guitarist] Ron Samworth,” he enthuses. “And I made a specific request to get François Houle involved, because he’s just such an amazing player—and also because I wanted to have that clarinet-inside-the-saxophone-section thing that Ellington did all the time.”
As for what the as-yet-untitled piece is going to sound like, Argue is not yet sure.
“Because it’s a lengthy work, it’s going to be in multiple sections, and I do have this architecture planned out for a five-part piece, with five contrasting moods,” he allows. “But who knows how this plan will actually be borne out by the end of it? As a composer, I put a lot of thought into the pre-compositional work, but often the music’s got a mind of its own and it’ll just sort of wrestle you away from your carefully wrought plan and take you down some sort of dark alley that you hadn’t imagined. That’s just part of the compositional process—and sometimes it’s better to just follow the guy down that dark alley to see where it leads.”
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and the Hard Rubber Orchestra share a TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival double bill at Performance Works next Friday (June 20).