The hard-hitting Norwegian freebop quartet evokes the full range of jazz history in their music, but their vital energy and enthusiasm is all about the present | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

The hard-hitting Norwegian freebop quartet evokes the full range of jazz history in their music, but their vital energy and enthusiasm is all about the present 

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click to enlarge Cortex

Cortex

Peter Gannushkin

The fiery Norwegian quartet Cortex pull no punches with their new album, barreling through eight new tunes without a wasted gesture—although its title, Avant-Garde Party Music (Clean Feed), suggests they’re not above laughing at themselves a bit. With five albums to their credit, trumpeter Thomas Johansson—who composed all of the typically pithy material on the recording—saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, bassist Ola Høyer, and drummer Gard Nilssen have hit an undeniable groove as a working band, delivering some of the most thrilling, high-energy freebop made anywhere in the world. The rhythm section functions like a jet engine, driving the music with a dazzling blend of precision and power. The opening section of “Grinder” gamely ambles with a swinging exuberance before the explosive horn solos usher in a manic onslaught of high velocity movement, Nilssen moving across his kit with blindingly quick patterns and thudding physicality and Høyer plucking notes in up-and-down shapes that push the music forward while filling in gaps in the compositions. The front line references plenty of antecedents in jazz history—from Ornette Coleman’s classic quartet to the moody machinations of fellow Scandinavians Atomic—but Johansson and Alberts can just as easily scream and casually deploy extended techniques. The sheer enthusiasm with which they rip into the tunes, their nonstop energy, and the exhilarating cogency of their improvisations make the band more than just another bunch of virtuosos—they play as if it might be the last time they take the stage, but rather than transmitting desperation, they sound as if they’re having the best night of their lives.   v

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