Joel Futterman

The Fall
Creation Music 19

Joel Futterman


Creation Music 18

One of the many exceptional pianists who ply their trade far from the centre of the so-called Jazz Business is Joel Futterman, who has lives in Virginia Beach. His extensive, if little known, discography includes group sessions with the likes of drummer Alvin Fielder and saxophonists Kid Jordan and Jimmy Lyons as well as monumental solo discs like these two.

Febrile and bravura in his improvising the Chicago-born stylist uses every part of the piano when he plays, including keyboard, pedals, internal strings and soundboard. Varying from sequences that plough ahead with kinetic strength to those which for shorter periods moderate into layered and balladic inventions, he exhibits some of the volcanic power of Borah Bergman and Cecil Taylor. However Futterman makes his musical antecedents more obvious. Glimpses of Lennie Tristano, Herbic Hancock and other modal stylists peek through his frequently lengthy improvisations; so do echoes of Stride piano plus reflective takes on American songbook standards, briefly referenced and stood on their heads.

Moreover as someone who at points revels in playing alone, the pianist has developed distinctive tropes to temper the sheer vigor of his solo work. For instance four-fifth of the way through the overwhelming keyboard onslaught that is “Perception Part One”, his higher-pitched staccato runs are interrupted by a jagged cry from curved soprano saxophone. He then plays both instruments simultaneously alternating split-tone reed quivers with percussive key pokes. Shortly after that he takes his hands from a keyboard and double tongues and trills an Indian flute. There are no Indian subcontinent extensions here however. If anything it sounds like Futterman is quoting riffs from Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue”. In a similar fashion an earlier creative interpolation half way through the piece first highlight a series of syncopated slides, clinks and plinks with bass string echoes that appear to stretch the line backwards as he advances the melody and finally turn modal. An allusion to “Maiden Voyage” arises, but Futterman doesn’t really quote. Instead he spins out the suggestion, plugs all the space and comments on the initial melody with a bass line from his other hand.

Volcanic and unrolling in a series of arpeggios and glissandi that at points nearly reach player piano speeds, the initial variants at points touch on boogie woogie and elsewhere on contrasting dynamism. Again though, Futterman’s frequent introductions of new overtones with fluttering folk-like phraseology reveal his melodic gifts confirming the uniqueness of this narrative. The final sequences substantiate this as well; although here staccato jumps and glancing tremolos give way to a florid and reflective section.

Inspired – if that’s the right word – by a nasty spill he suffered, the equally virtuoso The Fall, recorded three months after Perception, exhibits the same sort of contrasting dynamics plus opaque percussiveness, fortissimo vibrations and reflective harmonies. The scene-setting “The Fall Part One”, for instance, is defined by a final elegiac section expressed in translucent note patterns, reminiscent of Tristano’s “Requiem”, but with additional soundboard echoes. Among sequences of waterfall-like glissandi and high frequency arpeggios, a feeling of menace characterizes the exposition. Cascading and agitated chords intensify the narrative as a sound edifice is built out of low-pitched strums, with key slaps, bounces and pumps piled on top of one another. Ultimately concentrated pedal movements and knife-like key jabs precede the suggested tumble.

As it should be, the concluding “Recovery” is initially more lyrical and restrained, featuring warm and sympathetic voicing. Perhaps to indicate that he’s on the mend, Futterman’s exposition ultimately accelerates to splashing glissandi and staccatissimo jitters that use a touch of Stride to subvert what could be Tin Pan Alley melodies. Expressed in lockstep with kinetic yet romantic tones, the variant finally reaches a climax which seems to cram more notes than can be imagined into the bar lines plus walking bass extensions. Echoing key clips, soundboard resonations and internal string rubs characterize the finale as layered friction gives way to a single echoing note.

Another improviser who needs more exposure, add Futterman to the list of stylists who can be appreciated in a group setting and on his own.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Perception: 1. Perception Part One 2. Perception Two 3. Perception Three

Personnel: Perception: Joel Futterman (piano, curved soprano saxophone and Indian flute)

Track Listing: Fall; 1. The Fall Part One 2. The Fall Part Two 3. Recovery

Personnel: Fall: Joel Futterman (piano)