When I attended on Friday November 11th, the evening began with the brass section marching out playing an anthem that reminiscent of the brass band protest music by Carla Bley and the Charlie Haden Liberation Orchestra. The musicians not only provided the score, but were part of the set, as they were dressed as depression-era laborers, complete with overalls and news boy caps.
The music complimented the imagery beautifully, and was performed incredibly well by Argue's Secret Society, an 18-piece ensemble consisting some of New York's top call musicians, including the likes of saxophonist John Ellis and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Despite having a traditional big band instrumentation, Secret Society rarely sounds like one. Argue avoids almost all of the cliché's of the genre, and the music often more resembles a soundtrack to a Fellini film than a Thad Jones arrangement. Much of this is thanks to Argue's choice to orchestrate his pieces with woodwinds more often than with saxophones, and with tuba instead of bass trombone.
Brooklyn Babylon was at times overtly bombastic, featuring waves of pounding horn antiphony that complimented the stark imagery depicting the rise of the ominous tower. There was, however, also a quiet side, where acoustic guitar, flutes, and clarinets provided the humanistic and sweet motifs accompanying Lev Bozdomni’s relationship to his daughter, and to his community.
Brooklyn Babylon is a true achievement for both Argue and Zezelj. It’s a total fusion of two completely separate media, combining modern technology, theatricality, sound, and imagery to create a truly unique and original work. While the symbolism and politics are at times a bit heavy-handed, it is refreshing to hear instrumental music that carries a message, and comments on the turmoil that we witness daily in an “Occupy Wall Street” world. Hopefully it will be performed again.