Lina Allemano Four

Sometimes Y
Lumo Records LM 2017-7

Cortex

Avant Garde Party Music

Clean Feed CF 441 CD

With brevity of execution on their side two similarly constituted quartets – one Canadian and one Norwegian – have come up with singular takes on the piano-less group. Both Toronto-based trumpeter Lina Allemano Four and Norway’s Cortex take advantage of the airiness engendered with not being constructed by chordal instruments. However Allemano’s group, filled out by alto saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser operates more in the mold of Ornette Coleman’s 1960s groups with Don Cherry. A younger ensemble than the 12-year-old Four, though with more sessions in its discography, Cortex, made up of trumpeter Thomas Johansson, alto and tenor saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, bassist Ola Hoyer and drummer Gard Nilssen brings a shot of Punk-Rock energy to its eight selections which it barrels though in 37 minutes flat.

On the Canadian side, a certain maturity is evident from players who have played with international figures ranging from Han Bennink to Tony Malaby. But experience doesn’t inhibit ambulatory adventurousness. Some of this can be ascribed to Downing, who distinctively tunes his bass in fifths an octave lower than a cello. What that means is that pieces such as “Kanada” and “Ö” are shaped by double bass contribution. On the former for instance Allemano’s thematic obbligato which is then fractured by West’s reed bites, emerges in a new tempo after the bassist’s sweeping exploration turns to sizzling string swipes. Maintaining equilibrium with Arco twists and pizzicato thumps, and helped by Fraser’s pitter-patters, Downing constructs a logical background on which the horns’ alternately growling and peeping vibrate into a connective sequence featuring trumpet chirps layered on top. Keeping “Ö” low-pitched and buzzing following the double bass introduction, Downing also preserves the tune’s foundation as slurs from the trumpeter and peeping asides from the saxophonist evolve into a deeper toned lullaby-like ending that’s smooth without losing its decidedly rhythmic root.

Confident in each other’s skills and support, the band members can transform the restrained “Cowlick” with door-knocking drumming and jagged reed vibrations to culminate in blustery grace notes from Allemano, since the Downing’s bass line preserves the tune’s parameters. And this notable balance between the smooth and the spiky is maintained on “Marina and Lou”, the CD’s longest and most descriptive track. Still mellow by the finale, mercurial interaction is constantly maintained even as harmonized horn parts are fragmented into low-pitched burbles from the trumpeter and altissimo screeches from the saxophonist.

If the Allemano Four come across with a Beatles-like evenness between innovation and tradition plus a familiarity with the linkage among tones and timbres, the Cortex could be The Ramones, preoccupied with smashing through the compositions as quickly as possible with the maximum amount of dissonance. While the musical execution may be harder and louder, like the programs of other Scandinavian units like The Thing and The Young Mothers, the result is no more musically advanced than what the other quartet creates with more restraint. Essentially the tracks are part of extended horse race, with for the most part, differences only apparent depending on which instrument is soloing. Something like “Grinder”, the first tune, may explode from the starting line with Ornette-like fluctuations via unison horns and Rock-like energy from the drummer. But it’s still conventional enough to recap the head, and is little different in conception than the subsequently speedier, but more concise “Chaos” except the later has wailing bass line and some searing trumpet shakes. Even the giveaway titled “Waltz” is only moderately more melodic, reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s piano-less quartets not Coleman’s. But soon enough the theme is being eviscerated with knife-sharp saxophone vibrations and trumpet blasts.

Cortex members have experience in their neck of the woods as the Canadians have in theirs, having worked in bands like the Zanussi 5, Friends & Neighbors and Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit. But the most notable parts of this the group’s fifth CD is when the sounds appear more thought out. “Obverse/Reverse” for instance, come across as a showcase for both Hoyer and Nilssen, with the latter using it for a showy multi-percussion demonstration and the former wisely letting his string underpinnings cement the thematic line beneath horn splutters. The finale matches a drum back-beat with a near R&B chorus from Alberts. Also memorable is “Perception”, initially a relaxed Bluesy number that doubles in intensity following wiggling multiphonics from the saxophonist and textural story telling from the trumpeter. But its main achievement is showing how the four can separate s enough so that Johansson plays off Nilssen and Alberts with Hoyer.

No musical format is sacrosanct or worn-out. It all depends on the way it’s put to use by sophisticated players. The Allemano Four and Cortex individually conform that in the right hands; a lot can still be said with the piano-less quartet.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sometimes: 1. Sometimes Y 2. Kanada 3. Cowlick 4. Mariana and Lou 5. Tweeter 6. Ö

Personnel: Sometimes: Lina Allemano (trumpet); Brodie West (alto saxophone); Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums)

Track Listing: Avant: 1. Grinder 2. Chaos 3. Waltz 4. (If You Where) Mac Davis 5. Disturbance 6. Obverse/Reverse 7. Perception 8. Off Course

Personnel: Avant: Thomas Johansson (trumpet); Kristoffer Berre Alberts (alto and tenor saxophones); Ola Hoyer (bass) and Gard Nilssen (drums)