Sunday, June 24, 2018

Joel Futterman Quartet - Vision in Time (SILKHEART RECORDS 2018)

"Futterman's piano sound is the result of having the strongest left hand technique in the business coupled with a unique three-hand technique developed while working in isolation for the past two decades. For me, though, the beauty of Futterman's approach is that his technique is always contained within the music, serving as a conduit for the development of ideas, and not used as a display of Lisztonian fireworks." 
Paul Niles, Jazz Review and Collector's Discography, March 1992

Improvised music is a warehouse full of paradoxes. Among them is the sense that this music, which promotes freedom and personal expression like no constitutional amendment ever did, is nevertheless governed by a set of clubhouse rules that often seem downright draconian.

Joel Futterman, who has been making music for a long time, with a 23 year involvement in New Music alone, is an individual whose career is well delineated by a healthy neglect for those rules. Currently working in theVirgina tidewater area, having forsaken the prototypical urban center, he is continually forging a music that is made with an early Ornette-like sense of separation from the neighborhood of creative and nurturing forces. As with Coleman, Futterman's music is indelibly his own, and has clearly and of necessity been reached through a continual and deeply-held belief in himself. 

It cannot be simple or easy to develop the urgent, frankly communal forms often found in New Music, while maintaining such a creative life apart. In truth, Futterman is not entirely alone in his work, for he enjoys a luxury almost as dear as his self reliance – that of a close and constant collaborator, Robert Adkins, who is the drummer on this recording. The bond that these two have achieved through their years of work together would be precious in any setting, but is especially focused, vital and well-kept in its own context.

Getting to hear the output of this collaboration is as great an opportunity as that of the two being able to bear down consistently on a shared vision, in lieu of working more intermittently with a wider circle of musicians. 

If anything, though, this work is under-documented. Vision in Time represents the first recorded venture forth for the pianist and drummer since 1984's Inneraction, made with bassist Richard Davis and the late altoist Jimmy Lyons.

That record proved to be Lyons' last date, a turn which had a deep effect on both Futterman and Adkins. Both speak of Lyons, to this day, incredulous that they encountered such a touchstone and kindred spirit, let alone that he's now departed. He is remembered here with the dedication of "There is a Smile". 

Having established a working closeness on his last recording, Futterman met with producer Philip Egert in 1988 and set about recapturing that quality in a follow-up quartet session, again with bassist Davis. The leader then contacted fellow former Chicagoan, Joseph Jarman, having written the music for this date with tenor sax and bass clarinet in mind, both prominent weapons in Jarman's arsenal of things great and small. Adkins, of course, was equally committed to recording in this setting.

He had met up with New Music when he met up with Futterman in 1974, after years of paying a surprising variety of straightahead dues with well knowns at home and abroad. He hasn't spared any effort in his development since. And, as is now especially evident, he has mastered the rigors of playing free time with purpose.

The way in which the quartet was formed for this recording is a measure of the acknowledgement given Futterman, despite his years of removal from the larger music making community. Jarman, a man of keen insight and curiosity, became interested in the project despite his being unfamiliar with Futterman's most recent work, and was furnished scores in advance of the date.

Davis, with customary elegance and assurance, agreed to fly in for the recording the moment the subject was broached. His admiration for Futterman's abilities and his offer of artistic support and fellowship (which is not lightly given) date back to his musical introduction to the leader some years ago. As to the present day, the ease of wresting Davis from the embrace of the American heartland for this recording was likely occasioned by a warm remembrance for the freedoms of the previous quartet project, and by his continued appreciation for the company of a player who shares his breadth of experience and length of service to the foundations of improvised music.

Indeed, as Futterman warms up the studio piano, it's clear that he is the master of many possibilities, some familiar; some, as Jon Hendricks would say, "unforeheard". When an artist of such range focuses on making a music that is continually new to his vision and capabilities, it's clear that such art is completely of necessity, and that it will be made regardless of the opportunity to record it. The pianist, who has miles of ideas waiting to be brought to sound, nevertheless has made the most of this occasion, and has fashioned the music into a distinct and evolutionary statement by changing some parameters from past work.

Vision in Time represents a more fully compositional effort for Futterman, and the compositions are of a relatively concise and discrete nature, as opposed to the extended format of Inneraction. Some multiple takes were made during the recording (running the risk of countering the freshness of the first take), and if the ensemble sounds close enough to have had the privilege of rehearsals, it is because the vital axis of this quartet, Futterman and Adkins, have been in rehearsal for all those years near the shore.

This undisturbed unity between the two men is clearly the great reward for their having kept faith apart from the bigger climates. They navigate the charged, dense structures of these New Music forms with complete and singular clarity, which should be a revelation to the listener. This clarity, obviously hatched from a distinction of purpose, is an empowerment that can help clear the way to higher ground for both artist and listener.

Thankfully, New Music is still the riskiest music in town to create, and when the risks are taken with such care and experience, they can be made irresistable to us. When the fruit of the risks is expressed with such clarity, we can be certain that when the notes have disappeared, as Dolphy said, into the air, we will have heard and been affected by them all.

William Tandy Young
November 8, 1989

1. Reality on Edge 09:45
2. Talking with You 10:14
3. Vision in Time 08:05
4. There Is a Smile 08:52
5. I Never Knew Her Name 04:31
6. I Remember 15:29
7. Round Two 12:31

Joel Futterman piano
Joseph Jarman tenor sax, bass clarinet
Richard Davis bass
Robert Adkins drums