Skull and Bones, the Illuminati, your mum’s ‘knitting’ group: all secret societies deserve a soundtrack to magnify mystery and Darcy James Argue’s band are the ones to provide it.

At a time where topics of surveillance, privacy, infiltration and manipulation are a near constant presence in the news cycle, Argue’s Real Enemies project takes the big band sound synonymous with spy/detective thrillers and moulds it into something more than a little unsettling. Beginning in a realm that would not be out of place in a light-hearted Pink Panther skit, the middle third of the suite is disquieting, discordant an disconcerting. A fiendishly difficult arrangement forces a heightened level of attention from players and audience alike, intensifying the experience in the dramatically-lit hall.

There is a sense of foreboding that Darcy James Argue conjures in this work that spills into a more obvious tension when a series of soloists start to collide, with a alto sax vs trombone play-off positioning the friction front and centre. Argue’s use of sinister audio excerpts is a notable feature of this peculiar and affecting piece. ‘The very word secret is repugnant in a free and open society,’ says JFK — triggered by the conductor’s iPad ‘and we are, as people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.’ It’s a all a little eery, an dimension that is furthered by the trumpet section’s occasional trips to the back of the stage to turn their dark-suited backs and play into the body of the open piano.

Turning to face the audience —ashen-faced, black suit and tie, hands clasped— Darcy James Argue allows the audience to project their own meaning onto his controlling, shadowy presence. Whether establishment, digital or personal paranoia is on the mind, Real Enemies is a work designed to unsettle. Give it a listen, if your nerves can take it.

The 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival continues until Sunday 19 November.

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