As a musician, I listen to music. When I mean listen, I mean that I listen attentively. No distractions. If I hear music in the background environment somewhere, I automatically clue into it, and often have to make the deliberate decision to ignore it. If it’s worth ignoring.
This album is definitely worth undivided attention.
Why, might you ask?
I’ll tell you.
This album has the unique attributes of complexity and catchiness. The melodies are singable, it’s very rhythmically groovable, every song has good dramatic form, and the orchestration is daring and colorful.
It also has defied my expectations of what a jazz big band can sound like. The Secret Society is set up similarly to the Kenton Orchestra, with a full rhythm section and ten brass. They also incorporate some modern electronic effects. As I consider myself a constant student of musical composition, I am always on the lookout for good ideas, and this defiance of what a big band should sound like is in the direction of a lot of great ideas. In this music, I hear a solid base of jazz history, and I also hear cutting-edge modern ideas. I hear, in the rhythmic and orchestration approach, bits of steampunk (it is supposed to be a steampunka album, after all, although I consider this stylistic influence minor) the so-called post-minimalism of Steve Reich and John Adams, and the unique modern approach of Bob Brookmeyer. Which makes sense, given that Darcy studied with Bob for many years. Now, everyone will listen to music in their own way. The aspect that to me is the most striking about this is the polyrhythms. They are probably the most danceable of complex ployrhythms that I’ve ever seen outside of good afro-cuban music. To get an example of what I mean, just listen to the beginning of the second song, Zeno. It’s intense stuff. Bonus points if you can work out the rhythmic ratios.
Infernal Machines was released in 2009, and has become something of a standard of excellence amongst many of my jazz-musician friends since then. It also managed to get a nomination for the 2011 Best Jazz Large Ensemble Album Grammy, but lost out to Mingus Big Band Live at Jazz Standard. Why 2011, when it was released on 2009? I have no idea.
So, if you enjoy listening with undivided attention like I do, this album reaps great dividends. If you are so inclined, you may visit the Secret Society website, and if you live near New York, go listen to them live at The Jazz Gallery. Darcy also uploaded some videos of a 2011 performance to Youtube.