in performance: cortex

cortex: ola hoyer, thomas johansson, kristoffer alberts and gard nilssen.

cortex: ola hoyer, thomas johansson, kristoffer alberts, gard nilssen.

One isn’t inclined to pair the words “Nordic” and “intimacy” in any context. But last night at Mecca, the Norwegian jazz quartet Cortex offered an exquisitely intimate performance that made you peel back the years to not only another jazz era but to a different concert environment altogether.

Some of the appeal stemmed from the band’s accessibility. Part of what has become a very active autumn lineup in the Outside the Spotlight series, Cortex doesn’t center itself squarely on the kind of free improvisation usually associated with an OTS concert. While there were certainly segments of coarser, more open instrumental phrasing – usually from cornetist Thomas Johansson and alto/tenor saxophonist Kristoffer Alberts – there was also considerable grove, melody and composition at work within the hour long performance.

You heard all of it at work when bassist Ola Hoyer and drummer Gard Nilssen set the show in motion with a groove as elastic as it was cool. Both artists had their chance to get their hands dirty in more open ended adventures as the concert went on. But tunes like Fall, which the duo drove with steadfast authority, and Happy Go Lucky, which Nilssen punctuated with sharp, rifle shot blasts on the drumhead, luxuriated in their sense of melody.

Johansson and Alberts created dialogues of very similar structure, playing off each other within the sulky cool of Disturbance (with Alberts on alto sax) and the bright, boppish runs of Ahead (with the saxophonist switching to tenor).

The latter tune also referenced the great ‘60s records of Pharoah Sanders, the saxophonist who similarly blended spacious, unhurried groove with open ended improvisation – in essence, a balance of grace and fire.

Cortez, playing within the dimly (but comfortably) lit confines of Mecca, continually favored grace last night, whether it was the moment a luscious muted solo from Johansson melted into an equally gorgeous bass break from Hoyer that sounded like the basis of a chant, or the saucy, rockish groove the full band dug into at show’s end. Such were the delicious extremes within this Saturday night serving of Nordic intimacy.

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