Where does one begin with a project like this? Joel Futterman is a pianist who, even at a sprightly 76, has not yet gotten his due. He's probably most well-known for his work with seminal figures such as Kidd Jordan and Alvin Fielder. If you dig deeper, you will find releases with Raphe Malik, Jimmy Lyons, Paul Murphy, and long-time collaborators Hal Russell and Robert Adkins, among many, many others. Futterman, however, is also a seminal (and prolific) soloist. Although the spotlight for this style of music is limited, Creation Series might give this artist just a little more of that shine, and garner him at least some of the attention he surely deserves.
Creation Series is an opus. It is also a song-cycle of alternately trenchant and buoyant etudes, which are too fully developed and organically interwoven to simply be studies or sketches. Whether considered as discrete sessions (recorded in June, August, September, November, and December of 2008) or more epically across all five discs, this series of recordings is a high mark for Futterman as much as it is also a sort of time capsule: not just some lost sessions box or a few days of manic creativity, but a series of thoughtful and elaborate private recitals.
Naturally, the fact that these sessions are now almost 15 years old does not imply any immaturity in the then-60 Futterman. His style is developed and encompassing, and it is all his own, with some nods, of course, to his forebearers in the early 20th century classical world, American blues, rag and, of course, the contemporary free jazz tradition. Indeed, one can discern Futterman's sheer range more clearly than on his collaborations. Echoes of Cecil Taylor's assaultive clusters are tinged with a distinct western twang and are contrasted with later passages of post-classical spaciousness. Broken bits of Art Tatum's bounce and decompositional melodicism and Monk's askewity poke out here and there. Then Futterman dives into slow passages of extended techniques or heavy pounding, dancing in the ground between Henry Cowell and Jacques Demierre. From there, in a manner both abrupt and smooth, he glides into bluesy church music, albeit deluged with sound, and demented, modernized takes on rag-time rhythms.
The movements in these pieces — each a disciplined and inspired spontaneous composition — showcase these wide inputs. One hears super-baroque curlicues and other embellishments that collapse into dense, pounding passages and thrumming-to-pizzicato interior work. Tones layer, smack into each other and refract one another. Still, even in the odd juxtapositions and the passages of cacophony, this is hardly chaos. Futterman inserts beautiful themes to which he returns, if in augmented form, as a way to give a balance to the pieces and, presumably, tangible moments of recognition that the listener can cling to when working through such a massive release.
In it all, no two discs, or even tracks, sound the same. (See the masterful, almost stream-of-consciousness liner notes by Marc Medwin for a play-by-play of this.) The first disc offers dark and even sultry colors and romantic balladeering. (When he doubles down on a melody, it becomes infectious, and at several points I am convinced he is quoting some early R&B songs, though I just cannot place them.) These elements, however, rarely stand on their own for too long, as Futterman periodically summons shards of sheer noise which contrast and shred the sonorous tapestry he has developed.
The second disc begins with begins with Part I, a manic ten-minute burst of energy that falls into a brief romantic interlude until the momentum gathers again, this time with blues undertones, next time with more abstraction. It vacillates between crisp but dense clustering and glistening, balmy sections for its 38-minute duration. Part II could not be more different and, in that, balances the session. It unfolds gradually from pings and frictions inside the piano, which lead into more menacing chords and slow, brittle scales and some wide sparse sections of texture, soft abrasions and note decays. Patiently and quietly powerful.
Disc three serves a heavy dose of straightforward stride, that is interspliced with some neoclassical dramatic flairs and intense, stilted runs, as if Futterman's fingers are about to scurry away before he inevitably catches them and pulls them back into rhythm. This session also has cuts such as Part III, which is a moving, laggard ballad that sounds both strong and fragile before it falls into an offbeat plodding.
Disc four gives us our first glimpse of Futterman's curved soprano saxophone, which he layers over the piano. It also features a return to the interior work he began on disc one and explored more deeply on the second cut on disc two, but which here appears more menacing. It only breaks when he reaches the second track, which melts from the jauntiness and lyricism of the early sections into an extended galloping run and then a provocatively quiet and brittle meditation at the end.
On disc five, Futterman brings back the sax. Indeed, more than the others, this final installment feels, in ways, like a culmination. It is difficult to judge a top disc (or a disc that, apart from chronology, should come first, second or last), but disc five seems to have more of the elements that each of the others displayed, and maybe even a more sustained drive amidst the dynamic swings in tempo, mood and technique.
It is likely different listeners will glom onto different features of these performances. Each session is rich, varied and sometimes counterintuitive. At each new listen, I fixate on different elements and, although the basic trajectories hold, the precise articulations and emphases seem to change with my own attentions, mood or setting. In Futterman's able hands, however, it all seems to make sense, somehow, in that odd way that only practiced improvisation or spontaneous composition can. There are just so many there's there, sometimes for a few bars and sometimes for ten-minutes, to be returned to, repurposed and refashioned 20 minutes later, or even two discs and several months later. This is a big project, and such a wonderfully protean one.
Comments and Feedback: