Canada’s Hard Rubber Orchestra has been around for over 25 years, and I vaguely remember liking their 1998 release Cruel But Fair. Led by John Korsrud, a former student of Louis Andriessen, they have toured Canada and Europe, commissioned over 40 Canadian composers, and won numerous awards. Late last year, the group recorded Crush, their latest release and first recording since 2002.
With jazz efforts, the instrumentation is often telling. Crush features drums, latin percussion, guitar, bass, keyboards, violins, and an 11-piece horn section. Comparisons can be made to the Secret Society of fellow Canadian Darcy James Argue. But the Orchestra manages to carve its own niche in the avant-big-band space.
There are only two tracks over four minutes in length, and these are also the most compelling. They feature copious layered horns, providing a thick sound. But, this is not just jazzy music, rather it incorporates a heavy, instrumental avant-funk. Of these, the title track, Crush, is driven by guitar themes, with swirling horns in both the foreground and background. There is a sense of tension with repeated climbing motifs, the result being angular and pleasantly discordant. Come to the Dark Side (which features a largely different lineup from the rest of the album) begins slowly with a vague Miles Davis influence, before rounding out its 13 minutes with staccato horns, ominous percussion, and complex rhythms.
With very few modern artists writing music for large groups, the Hard Rubber Orchestra stands out. But it also separates itself from the mundane by providing music of a high quality – intelligent compositions, tight playing, and a sense of fun to accompany more than a little noir. The intricacies of the instrumental layering will keep your head spinning through multiple listens. Highly recommended.