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The quartet of twenty-something jazz hellions collectively known as Nortonk describe their music as chordless because the lineup doesn’t include an instrument along the lines of piano or guitar. But that doesn’t mean the work feels as if it’s lacking anything. Indeed, the combo’s self-titled debut is very much a maximal experience, thanks to a surplus of energy, passion and adventurism.
The edgy fun begins with the first notes of the opening track, “Chutes and Leaders.” Trumpeter Thomas Killackey and alto saxophonist Gideon Forbes offer a quirky opening figure before they’re joined by acoustic bassist Stephen Pale and drummer Steven Crammer, whose contrapuntal rhythms fill the gaps with admirable idiosyncrasy. From there, Forbes launches into a solo that’s playful yet aggressive, an aural challenge to which the rest of the crew rises. The one-two punch of composition and improvisation strikes quickly and leaves a mark.
“Spiders,” which follows, slows the pace and deepens the interplay, with Killackey and Forbes layering lines over Crammer’s intuitive punctuation, prior to “Duuzh,” a thrilling sonic flurry that somehow manages to make room for a gorgeously fluid Pale spotlight. “GLaDOS,” for its part, is a tricky contraption of a tune, all stops and starts and sudden pivots, plus Killackey’s ripest moments of the set, while “Quat” exhibits a melodic cleverness underscored by Forbes at his most accessible. The concluding “Herzog,” meanwhile, is an atmospheric gem the instrumentalists carve with the utmost care, even during its most spontaneous moments.
The chief problem with the album is that there’s simply not enough of it. The six tracks add up to a running time of just more than 30 minutes, and most would benefit from a little more breathing room. Still, it’s a good sign that their brevity leaves the listener wanting more of what Nortonk delivers.