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Hard Rubber Orchestra: Cruel Yet Fair

During the ’90s, Vancover has had one of the most vital local scenes on the planet. Vancouver musicians have been an integral part of the artistic success of the du Maurier International Jazz Festival Vancouver. In turn, they have benefitted both fron the collaborations with musicians from the United States and Europe afforded them by the mix-and-match programming of artistic director Ken Pickering, and from a level of exposure in the international press that eludes 99.9% of “local musicians.” this is not to suggest, however, that they would not have made similar progress had they relocated to New York or Europe. As these discs convey, their is a remarkable concentration of world-class creative musicianship in Vancouver.

Trumpeter/composer John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra is a juggernaut. On Cruel Yet Fair, the 22-piece esnsemble rips through Korsrud’s erudite compositions, kicking up a dust storm of ideas that linger long after the disc is over. As a composer, Korsrud gives minimalism’s interlocking figures and repeating motives big band brawn and palpable propulsion, while grafting material from funk, Latin, and rock sources. He makes very arcane concepts swing hard. While he is a gifted trumpeter, Korsrud is, more importantly, a generous leader, who hands the bulk of the solo space to colleagues spanning the Vancouver spectrum, from hard-hitting jazzers like trumpeter Brad Turner and baritone saxophonist Daniel Kane, to NOW Orchestra-affiliated improvisers like soprano saxophonist Graham Ord and guitarist Ron Samworth. Incredibly, Cruel Yet Fair is Hard Rubber Orchestra’s first recording; there hasn’t been as impressive a debut by a composer and his orchestra in years.

Clarinetist Francois Houle’s In the Vernacular is an incisive exploration of the music of composer clarinetist John Carter. Leading a stellar quintet with trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Mark Dresser, cellist Peggy Lee and drummer Dylan van der Schyff (one or both of the latter two are inevitably at the crux of the most interesting Vancouver units; their engaging duo disc, These Are Our Shoes, is newly issued on the Ontario-based Spool label), Houle takes such demanding pieces as the exhilarating “Sticks and Stones” head-on, while boldly transforming others; the evocative “Karen on Monday” is recast as a moving, richly textured duet for Dresser and Lee. Stylistcally, Houle is a much different clarinetist than Carter, who drew elaborate pictures with a single, if often squiggled, line; Houle, who has impeccable technique, carefully builds his solos deliberately, smudging, cross hatching, and layering to achieve a multiple perspective in a single statement. Douglas is the perfect foil for Houle, who jumped directly into improvised music from a classical background; the trumpeter gets down on “Old Blues” (one of Carter’s “Three Dances In The Vernacular” making their debut on the disc, it bears a striking resemblance to the work of Carter’s early student, Julius Hemphill), squeezes tart muted lines on “Juba’s Run,” and generally provides jazz flavors that fully animates Carter’s music. Still, the project is clearly Houle’s, and he deserves enormous credit for its realization.

Paul Plimley is arguably Vancouver’s most resourceful improviser, a pianist capable of taking a performance anywhere at any moment; torrential clusters can instantly evaporate into sparse lyricism, staccato fragments can quickly coalesce into flowing melody, and a nimbly surfed groove can be abruptly washed out by forearm slams. All of Plimley’s improvisational assets are tapped on Sensology, a rigourous duo exchange with English bass pioneer Barry Guy. Throughout the program, Guy also shows his often astounding agility, morphing plump, resonant figures into chattering percussive effects, and capping off scampering runs with otherworldly arco effects. Recorded at the Western Front, Vancouver’s legendary outpost for improvised music, Sensology is improvised music at its best: bold, challenging, and rewarding.

Originally Published