What does Brooklyn sound like? While the fashionably clad, underemployed youth of Lena Dunham’s “Girls” may spring to mind given the New York City borough’s pop cultural footprint, bandleader Darcy James Argue paints a broader picture of a time and place than any TV series could hope.
Conceived as a collaboration with Croatian-born artist Danijel Zezelj (whose drawings backed this music in its live debut), “Brooklyn Babylon” finds Argue and his 18-piece big band again drawing from the broad palette that made their 2009 debut “Infernal Machines” so invigorating. Jazz, classical, Balkan folk, post-rock and even Sousa-esque marches swirl around vivid, intricate suites for a 53-minute work that captures a region’s past and present while sounding ultimately timeless.
Boasting a roster of rising top-notch jazz players including Sam Sadigursky, John Ellis and Ryan Keberle (whose recent album “Music Is Emotion” is another stunner), the record begins with the gypsy-tilted “Prologue,” which gallops behind nimble brass. “The Neighborhood” then surges with a piano and bass line that nods to fellow Brooklynites LCD Soundsystem amid John Ellis’ woozy saxophone, and “Construction + Destruction” begins with a dramatic sweep that follows a mix of guitar and brass to the heavens.
The record’s narrative concerns an effort to build the “tallest tower in the world” in Brooklyn’s center (not so far-fetched given recent NYC real estate developments), and is interspersed with atmospheric interludes that further underscore both Argue’s ambition and his talents given how beautifully the record stands as a whole. As a performance, “Brooklyn Babylon” must’ve been remarkable to see — it’s equally so to hear.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Three and a half stars (out of four)