AMN Reviews: Hard Rubber Orchestra – Iguana (2022; Redshift)

Hard Rubber Orchestra is an 18-piece big band that has been around for over 30 years, and Iguana is their first release since 2014. Consisting of five drummers / percussionists, bass, guitar, pianos, synth, cello, violin, voice, and a large horn section, the group produces a thick, dense sound with layered complexity.

The most striking piece on this album is the opener, Source Code. Composer / arranger Harry Stafylakis stated, “This piece is perhaps one of my most explicit attempts at writing contemporary progressive metal music for a non-metal ensemble.” Indeed, the heavy guitar riffs and intricate rhythms are compelling enough, but when combined with contrapuntal lines from the horn and string sections, Stafylakis takes it over the top. And, the track manages to avoid cliches of sounding like metal influences mere grafted on another style – the heaviness here is deeply integrated and a fundamental part of the composition.

Taking things in a different direction, James O’Callaghan’s a bilateral, a symmetry appears to be a pastiche of samples from a subset of the musicians. The result comes across as a blending of musique concrete and techno, with strong beats and rapid jump cuts. In further contrast, we have Peggy Lee’s Dissolver, which begins with an intense and mildly chaotic staccato horn pattern accompanied by a strained electric guitar theme. This evolves into a more conventional set of horn-driven structures.

The final three pieces are from group leader John Korsrud. The title track is a bouncy effort that is actually a reworking of a tune from 1992, with ascending melodic patterns and multiple percussionists. Eventually, its playful nature is somewhat tempered by an intense guitar / horn crescendo. From the Earth is best categorized as chamber music with a pastoral and wistful tone, played on just piano and horns. Rounding things out is Force Majeure, Korsrud’s first composition after the beginning of the pandemic. It is a tension-filled offering, again with multiple percussionists but also thick lines that merge and split apart into controlled disorder.

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