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Cortex: Live In New York

John Sharpe By

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Live In New York constitutes the fourth outing by young Norwegian outfit Cortex. It's one of a stream of top notch dates emerging on the Portuguese Clean Feed label by a welter of interconnected bands from the burgeoning Scandinavian scene. All four members share a common background in jazz studies from Trondheim, but are now active in a variety of guises. Trumpeter Thomas Johansson appears on All Included's Satan in Plain Clothes (2015)and Friends & Neighbors' What's Wrong? (2016), while drummer Gard Nilssen leads his own Acoustic Unity trio on Firehouse (2015) and was part of the collective Awosting Falls Starlite Motel (2016) along with saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts who also features on Snik's Metasediment Rock (2015).

Like all those combos to varying degrees, Cortex draws inspiration from the first generation of American New Thing practitioners such as Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. Their live set from Brooklyn's IBeam follows the template set by their previous Clean Feed release Live (2015), with thoughtfully arranged charts by Johansson delivered by a tight unit with exuberance and accomplished musicianship. Although they keep time, and keep the melodic contours of the compositions in mind, they also give the program a thoroughly contemporary twist.

Johansson trades in a fiery zipping legato, while Alberts' angular bounding lines mix discord and tunefulness, sometimes in the same breath, occasionally recalling Martin Küchen. Nilssen often favors a faster pulse than the horns creating an urgent forward pull and he combines that with a constant dialogue with the horns, exemplified by how he responds to Johansson's stutter tonguing in "Higgs." Ola Høyer constructs a solid foundation blending resourceful propulsion with trenchant counterpoint.

"Ghost March/Ahead" provides a chance for them all to stretch out. After a hymnal theme with a township flavor, Høyer takes a lyrical pizzicato solo. Loose saxophone/trumpet interplay ensues which hints at the head among the squeals and dissonance, before opening out for a roiling drum exposition contrasting choppy accents with continuous rolls. Alberts' yelping alto radiates an unrelenting incantatory quality as the rhythm section settle into an accelerating groove which leads to another pacey unison. They wring every last ounce of excitement from the proceedings. The only wish is that the playing time extended beyond the 35-minutes presented.

Track Listing: Higgs; Fall; Ghost March/Ahead.

Personnel: Thomas Johansson: trumpet; Kristoffer Alberts: saxophones; Ola Høyer: double bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.

Title: Live in New York | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records


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