By Mark Corroto
Do you remember when you first heard Ornette Coleman’s The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Atlantic, 1959)? It could have been fifty years ago or five, but its life force remains. Its music was/is nearly impossible to ignore. The same can be said of the Norwegian quartet Cortex‘s Live In New York. It sizzles with a barely contained energy, one that has yet to be harnessed or become world-weary.
This release is their fourth and the second for Clean Feed, a follow up to Live! (2014). This live aspect magnifies the electricity of this quartet of trumpeter Thomas Johansson, saxophonist Kristoffer Alberts, bassist Ola Høyer, and drummer Gard Nilssen. Johansson is a member of Paal Nilssen-Love‘s Large Unit, and he released the powerful trio disc Revolution Before Lunch (Tammtz Records) earlier this year. Alberts’ saxophone can be heard in the free jazz trio Saka and in Starlite Motel with Nilssen, whose recording Firehouse (Clean Feed) made many a “best of 2015” lists.
It is, though, bassist Ola Høyer, who anchors this recording. Much as Charlie Haden did for Coleman, William Parker for Roy Campbell’s Other Dimensions in Music, or Fred Hopkins for Charles Brackeen’s quartet.
The three tracks occupy just 35-minutes of music. Think of it in terms of an LP. “Higgs” and “Fall,” at approximately eight and seven minutes in length would occupy Side A and the twenty-plus minute “Ghost March/Ahead,” Side B. The music here is so strong, perhaps a longer recording would have to include an intermission.
“Higgs” features Johansson’s trumpet workout with bass and (?) drums in full flight. The texture here is that of Dave Douglas’ work in John Zorn’s Masada. Equal parts hard-bop, post-bop and advanced trumpet technique. The urgency of “Fall” features Alberts’ fine channeling of Eric Dolphy and the ever accelerating drums of Nilssen. This is boiling point music at its best.
The final track “Ghost March/Ahead” is, as they say, an epic work of staggering genius. There is no excess fat to trim from this twenty minutes. Solos are compressed, intense and concise. Muted trumpet to open bell, harmony gives way to extended technique, time slows then speeds and the band plays on.