Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society North at the IAJE: Photo shoplifted from WBGO.
My busy week (see below) unfortunately coincided with the big IAJE jazz educators (and musicians and labels and critics and promoters - the name’s deceptive) conference in Toronto, so I wasn’t able to attend much of the proceedings, which included the likes of Courtney Pine curating a UK jazz night, an appearance by Francois Houle, a big Oscar Peterson tribute show this afternoon, etc. (You can catch up on some of it at Ear of the Mind.) But I was booked for one event, a panel on jazz blogging moderated by Chicago’s Neil Tesser (Listen Here) and featuring Brooklyn’s (but formerly Canada’s) Darcy James Argue (Secret Society), Montreal’s David Ryshpan (Settled in Shipping), New York’s David Adler (Lerterland) and me. (Jason Crane (The Jazz Session) had to back out as he had been transferred rather suddenly from Rochester, NY, to Saratoga Springs, NY, by the union he works for, and he was moving.)
The tone of the panel was a little bumpy because Neil didn’t know much about blogs and presented himself as a sceptic - going so far as to read a scoffing article from The Onion (gosh, The Onion… remember?) - and came at it rather heavily from a “don’t blogs suck and does anybody actually read them?” pov. He said that he’d often been asked to start a blog and never understood why. However, this proved somewhat useful, because it seemed a fair guess that Neil’s attitude was representative of what most middle-aged jazz guys feel about blogs, and so the rest of us built our case for the usefulness of blogs (and the Internet in general) as venues for the popularization, community-building, reconsideration and renewal of jazz. Jazz blogging now strikes me as very reminiscent of music blogs in general four or five years ago - tightly knit, very well informed, not beset with next-new-thing fever, and highly discursive. That’s lovely, but there’s tons more knowledgeable people out there who aren’t making use of the medium - part of why jazz folks get so frustrated with their lack of press (and lack of quality press especially - see Ken Vandermark’s many rants on the subject, for example) is that they are still focused on press, and we all know that’s a smaller part of how information and ideas are circulated today. (Though I always say that with mixed feelings, as a lover of and creature of print.)
Darcy made the point that every local jazz scene could use at least one highly active blogger to help track, critique and spread the word about a sadly overlooked sphere. He also responded inspiringly to one audience member’s question about how blogs can promote the “appreciation of jazz” - we should start, he said, by getting rid of the whole concept of appreciation, of treating jazz music like a series of monuments that need to be venerated and revered at a distance: “I don’t ‘appreciate’ Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, man, I fucking love them!” And I made the point that it’s this personal tone that bloggers are able to strike, and the intimacy of their relationships (and conversations) with readers, that give them some power to make readers find things accessible that they might otherwise keep at a distance. (Of course Destination Out came up as the shining example.) We won Neil over - he said at the end that he was convinced and that he’d think seriously about starting blogging.
Zoilus is by no means a “jazz blog,” of course, but jazz and especially local improvised music are a fairly frequent topic here (though a bit less often lately). I was happy to be invited and to point out to the jazz cats that when this music can be discussed in the same forums and in the same tone someone uses to talk about pop and indie music, for instance, there’s an opportunity to foster new audiences. I had a great conversation later in the day with Tatsuya Koeda from Now Forward (a promotions company in NYC) about the idea that for musicians and listeners alike, genres are less and less a barrier - not only because of the Internet but because of multiculturalism and much else, everyone’s ears are getting bigger (debatably, shallower too, but that’s another question).
Our conversation in itself demonstrated the point: With a couple of other people, we began from talking about the shifts in jazz venues in Toronto and a little while later I was being asked whether I ranked Spoon on my Top 10 last year and about Broken Social Scene playing at a NYC swimming pool last summer. Young jazz pianists are covering Bjork and Radiohead (in large numbers) and Black Sabbath (okay, that’s only The Bad Plus) and picking up rhythms from hip-hop as Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp do. I know from many personal experiences that plenty of young rock musicians are venerating not only Ornette and Coltrane, as they’ve long done, but Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich and Tinariwen and Konono No. 1, too. That’s not the future. That’s the present. Genre will never disappear, as it’s a social epiphenomenon and a necessity for interpreting and interrelating musics and a way of keeping shit organized in our heads, but in the 21st century it’s not going to be as dominant (and oppressive) as it was in the last.
As it turned out, the concert that night at the Tranzac by Darcy’s Secret Society North band (the core of his 17? 18?-piece New York ensemble along with a pack of great Canadian players stepping in as, er, pitch hitters) was one of the most galvanizing illustrations of that development I’ve witnessed in a long time. While I’ve read and traded links with Darcy for a long while, I hadn’t taken the time to listen to his music. So what I (and a substantial crowd of IAJE attendees and local musicians) got at the Tranzac came as a wonderful surprise. Fluidly and expressively conducting this “steam punk” big band (horns, reeds, drums, electric guitar and bass, Rhodes piano), Darcy rolled out one after another his incredibly smart, complicated, beautiful, firey and funky compositions. (In the lineage of, but distinct from, the writing and arranging of his teacher Bob Brookmeyer - see Ben Ratliff’s profile in The New York Times.)
I told people afterwards that it was like hearing Duke Ellington and minimalism and Tortoise and Funkadelic and Elliott Carter and much else besides melding into one floating, shifting, dodging music, often with political themes (one piece was dedicated to Maher Arar), sometimes with Escher-like overlaps and spirals. I didn’t take notes so I can’t be more specific (though there were standout moments from saxophonists Christine Jensen and Chet Doxas [whose trio opened], trumpeters
Ingrid Jensen and my mistake, sorry Jason Logue [who was subbing in for Lina Allemano, who unfortunately fell ill], trombonist Barb Hamilton, guitarist Sebastian Noelle, pianist Dave Restivo Gord Webster and drummer Jon Wikan, among others). But in short, this is music for people who fuckin’ love music. This skinny, scruffy young Brooklyn dude’s got it and he knows just what to do with it.
You can hear a sample of the band’s other IAJE appearance at WBGO.