Why change a winning formula? If Norwegian crew Cortex has considered that question, then the response was likely an unconcerned shrug. Studio session Avant-Garde Party Music continues firmly in the winning vein established by Clean Feed predecessors Live! (2014) and Live In New York (2016), mashing 1960s New Thing tropes with contemporary inside/outside soloing. Trumpeter Thomas Johansson pens all eight pieces in the 38-minute program, for the by now familiar cast list, completed by reedman Kristoffer Berre Alberts. bassist Ola Høyer and drummer Gard Nilssen.
Key to the success is the way Johansson's charts provide such fertile and varied frameworks within which to display the group's top notch chops. While the themes echo the sort of thing that might be heard on seminal discs by Don Cherry, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler, the arrangements and solos betray 50 years of increasing sophistication.
"Obverse/Reverse" supplies a case in point. A staccato unison introduces an unaccompanied shimmering pizzicato feature for Høyer, which proceeds with a mix of pointed ensemble interjections and dissonant improv fragments. Next Nilssen's chattering drums take a turn in the spotlight, as the interruptions become more emphatic, until a final switchback into a strolling jazzy rhythm buoys up a relaxed blues-inflected tenor saxophone excursion for Alberts, followed by a return to the opening gambit.
But choosing any track would serve up a similar tale. The opening "Grinder" contrasts a free time setting for the saxophonist's extended lines and choked wailing, with a pulsing vamp for Johansson's waspish trumpet. The rapid fire riffing of "Chaos" bookends first a punchy drum and brass duet, and then a tenor saxophone outing constructed from equal parts melody and skronk. It's all over in a flash. Perhaps most important, it sounds as if the band is having a blast. They would certainly enliven any party to which they were invited.
Grinder; Chaos; Waltz; (if You Where) Mac Davis; Disturbance; Obverse/Reverse; Perception; Off Course.
Thomas Johansson: trumpet; Kristoffer Berre Alberts: saxophones; Ola Høyer: bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.