Cortex - Avant Garde Party Music

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Thomas Johansson: trumpet; Kristoffer Alberts: saxophones; Ola Høyer: bass; Gard Nilssen: drums.


Cortex (not to be mistaken with the French jazz fusion band from the 70s) is a creative Scandinavian quartet - Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxophones, Ola Høyer on bass, and Gard Nilssen on drums - capable of reviving the decorous avant-jazz current with fierce determination by conjugating several elements from the past with a contemporary attitude.
Avant Garde Party Music, the fifth album of their career and the third for the Clean Feed Records, follows a pair of live records, unmistakably entitled Live! and Live in New York, released in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Grinder” is a tempting opener, boasting a straightforward statement that has some familiarity with the works of Don Cherry during the 60s, whether with Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, or Gato Barbieri. The improvisations are linked by a brief unison passage over a nice groove. This creative section starts with Alberts, who constructs slowly, resolutely, and sometimes furiously, and ends with Johansson, whose vibrancy and force are eminent regardless the register he chooses to operate. Still, the high-pitched notes have an impactful reverberation that comes naturally from the trumpet sound.

With “Chaos” we feel invited to their party. The danceable head of the song, possibly inspired by electronic music, leads us to cackles, shrieks, and screams vociferated by Johansson, which, subsequently, pushes us to a distended solo by Alberts, who romps in a frenetic language filled with impetuous timbral variations and passionate rhythmic ideas. 

Don’t expect a 3/4 tempo on “Waltz” because this piece, exhibiting a traditional AABA structure, swings with a 6/4 time signature on the A section and veers to 5/4 on the B. It features Alberts playing the soprano sax with utter enthusiasm.

One of the most gratifying tunes is “(If you where) Mac Davis”, a virulent exercise that immediately gains a statute of rebelliousness. The initial prayerful fervency, typical of David S. Ware, is deflected to an animated, powerful rock mode on top of which we can hear an expressive muted trumpet solo.

Brimming with exotic Latin pulses, “Disturbance” has timely snare drum hits working together with regular cymbal chatters. The purpose is to guide throughout the undeviating route, which finishes in playful counterpoint. 

After the shifting “Obverse/Reverse”, where the band members transfigure from typical avant-garders to groove-oriented disciples of the cool, the record offers up the electrifying “Off Course”, featuring Nilssen’s gnarly preamble, which accommodates powerful drum rolls and tom-tom altercations, and another muscular saxophone bustle crammed with lively grit and optimum technique.

Cortex’s music brings a blithe humor attached, feeling solidly compact rather than frivolously cathartic. The like-minded quartet, constantly varying between the taut and the groovy, also found a laudable balance between the puissant unisons and the individual creativity.

       Grade A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 – Chaos ► 04 - “(If you where) Mac Davis ► 08 – Off Course