By Tim Niland
Cortex is a superb collective band consisting of Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Kristoffer Alberts on saxophones, Ola Hoyer on bass and Gard Nilssen drums. The band works in the practice forged by early free jazz, and the live setting is a perfect vehicle for them to deliver their message. “Higgs” opens the album with subtle bass and drums which make space for the horns to move in a roaring manner. There is a deep theme that is set for this music, and a patient trumpet solo begins to take flight. The music is based around excellent interplay between the trumpet and the bass and drums, which keep everything moving briskly forward. Raw flavored saxophone solos over sinuous bass and drums, before everyone storms back to the stoic theme led by bristling drums. There is a bright riff and theme to “Fall,” that comes on fast and choppy and allows for a taut saxophone solo to break out over bass and drums. Alberts’ saxophone swirls while the drums slash thrillingly and the bass keeps things from flying apart. Johansson takes over and his trumpet solo opens up more space between the instruments. They gradually ramp back up the full power and the saxophone rejoins them for the final statement of the theme. The epic “Ghost March – Ahead” concludes the album over twenty glorious minutes that do not flag in the slightest. With a call from Johansson’s trumpet opening the piece, everyone comes in on a theme that recalls Ornette Coleman’s classic Atlantic recordings. There is a solo spot for Hoyer who plays a powerful and thick bass, followed by the full band taking the theme and ramping it up bit by bit before the tension finally breaks and there is a full throated saxophone scream ushering in a collective free improvisation of massive scope and power. There is an epic drum solo by Nilssen who is a powerhouse in any setting but sounds particularly brilliant here. Followed by a raw section for saxophone, bass and drums with pulsating squalls of sound over simmering rhythm. The lengthy performance has an egalitarian theme and variations structure as each soloist comes back to the theme before bowing out and letting another musician take the spotlight. Everyone returns to a spacious section before plowing ahead to a gripping conclusion. The music on this album is energetic and robust, with a frenetic rhythm section and an excellent frontline that are very meticulous when dispensing improvised solos. The music is simultaneously heavy and agile, flowing as rushing river and receives the highest possible recommendation.