|| Joel Futterman Trio
Cat. No.: SHCD131
Joel Futterman piano
Raphé Malik trumpet
Robert Adkins drums
1. Part One: The World Watched (Joel Futterman) 31:16
2. Part Two: Ask the Price (Joel Futterman) 9:02
3. Part Three: There is Peace (Joel Futterman) 23:36
Total time: 63:54
| Listen to an excerpt in
Your web browser should automatically start playing the music.
If it doesn't you probably need to download an mp3 player.
Futterman's restless churning lines are countered by the questing trumpet of former
Cecil Taylor associate Raphé Malik, who, along with drummer Robert Adkins
makes The World Watched and Ask The Price enticing, thought provoking
experiences. The collection's closing title, There Is Peace, provides the
listener with a intensely swirling, though decidedly less harrowing, aural imagery."
Reuben Jackson, Jazz Times, April 1993
The trail of the decades we call home is recorded in certain cities as though they were dry lake beds or rock strata. These cities have spoken names whose associative sonorities come from the various ways in which they have marked our century. When the name Berlin is said, the sound is longer than its syllables, and bronze: the name has been heated, cast, tolled, scrapped, re-melted, and poured again. And has yet to be let out of the foundry as finished.
Because so little of the instant mindscan of gyrating, mutable Berlin seems commonplace,
one of the residual unspoken charges against the Berlin Wall is that it was ordinary
(seen from the West). And in its perversity, bewitchingly humanscale. It also,
in the American perspective, came to seem like the last chapter: the sullen change
that would forever make an eventful place into something static as well as partitioned.
American Improvised music is of its moment, but not always of its time. The Wall
was a big-story barricade, framed as it hardened by a thrust to push those kinds
of things aside elsewhere. Improvising composers of the period, continuing a grand
general tradition of genteel indifference wanted not much to do with this galvanic
political rostrum, not musically, at any rate.
As the Wall settled into its tenure, it also became a powerful icon that confirmed
thematic art which had preceded it while inspiring fresh attempts to grapple with
what it had come to represent. Here again the appeal of such a focus was largely
lost on the improvising community in the U.S. Despite odes to such luminary structures
as the Watts Towers or the Williamsburg Bridge, American improvised music has
not been routinely based on static, man-made icons, regardless of scale or merit.
Musicans in the States have typically been far more directly involved with matters
of flux, immediacy, torsion, reactivity - the muscle tone of human living.
In this light, the changing of the border landscape from political experiment
to tidal human experience will likely prove to be a subject of equally surging
allure to composers and improvisers. As evidence this superbly titled recording,
among the initial wave of referential works in the post-wall world, devotes itself
entirely to the episode.
In fact, the lineage of the program here is rather unusual. Its spur came from
producer Philip Egert, who wrote the poem which inspired this music during the
peripatetic (parapetic) meeting of the Wall and its new owners. Pianist and composer
Joel Futterman, having been as equally affected by those events as Egert, took
the poem straight to heart and song, creating the three sections which comprise
this recording. The poem "Berlin Images", incidentally, is one of series of works
by Egert for which Futterman has written music, making this effort more that a
casual collaboration. Egert then oversaw the subsequent recording session with
this trio, thus able to hear the results of the partnership with all due immediacy.
The business of non-industrial music making is not without its quick rewards.
With that having been a rather circular experience, the project's creative genesis
was also a centrifugal and accumulative process which owes its shape to a fortuitous
confluence of time and events. Berlin has always been a notoriously nocturnal
city, and typically reserved many of its major open border rave-ups for times
of night that were truly after hours by any standards. That timing, however, allowed
viewers on the American east coast (such as the principals here) to watch those
events as they occurred during regular nightly television broadcast hours, giving
the proceedings a binding immediacy that would have otherwise been diluted through
editing and sound bite repackaging.
Over the course of an extraordinary series of days, these broadcasts became laced
into a charged continuum, bright with the flicker of discrete images. This improbable
long moment will likely remain a popular and convenient U.S. impression of the
changed Berlin. However, the vitality of those dominant images nearly belies the
breadth of experiences held within the overview. Thankfully, Egert's writing journeys
beyond the exuberance of the nightly cathartic meetings as he considers the aggregate
value and costs of our having arrived at that Berlineal point in time.
Futterman, in turn, describes his music as being a tone poem, and it is audibly
related to the printed verse. In fact, this piece was originally scored for voice,
which accounts for its closeness to the text. Having had such a previous compositional
life gives the music an added dimension: it creates a valuable conceptual tension
similar to that which exists between the vocal and instrumental renderings of
a jazz standard or show tune.
Accordingly, the music is built of a variety of moods, alternately sober and inquisitive,
then clarion and emphatic as it joins with the verse in a reflection on the Berlin
procession from a distant but sensitive vantage. Similarly, both works share an
evocative economy of expression, in contrast to the richness of the televised
rush to ramparts, as they attempt to include points of reference beyond the immediate
glow of the prevailing montage.
From the composer's standpoint, this economy is to an immediate extent due to
the chosen instrumentation. Futterman's past recordings have favored a general
quartet format including bass, which makes its absence notable here. While this
change has a timbral effect on the ensemble, it hardly has a functional one as
listeners familiar with Joel's work would know. He is possessed of a left hand
technique and concept that has long been strived for, hard-won, and that is not
to be fully described, even with superlatives. Suffice it to say that he finds
freedoms in the bassless arrangement here that other free ensemble leaders ironically
once found in pianoless settings, and further to say that he uses those freedoms
So, too, does drummer Robert Adkins. Like Futterman, his approach to New Music
is founded on purposeful discipline. Additionally, he has been listening to and
working with Futterman's left handed strengths far more than with any bassist.
The two have been rehearsing and performing together for years, with a lot of
that time spent as a duet.
Their mutual development allows both the breadth of expression found in this recording,
and the mighty control shown over the vital aspects of dynamics and density. These
are of primary interest, as much of the New Music genre may be characterized by
a lack of development in this regard, and because the success of this particular
work rests to a large degree on the players' mastery of these elements. There
are moments here that are thickly layered and note-rapid, yet which nearly whisper;
conversely, there are moments taken at full volume that are as clear as a carillon.
Regardless of situation, this unit can create musical tension by whatever means
it wants, which is, at the very least, a liberating skill.
Futterman and Adkins were fortunate to have been able to rehearse this music in
advance of the recording date. Trumpeter Raphé Malik, on the other hand, first
saw the material in the studio just before the appointed hour. Great things have
continually come from such fresh encounters, as most popularly witnessed by some
of the benchmark Miles Davis sessions. Davis, however, would perhaps not have
been comfortable with the challenge that Malik rises to answer here, chiefly that
of being a following front line voice, one-taking it over the free and extended
terrain of these compositions, with no control over the process other than what
his musicianship affords. Malik, due to his long associations with Cecil Taylor
and the late Jimmy Lyons (the latter an expecially dear one that Futterman and
Adkins have likewise enjoyed), is no stranger to such tasks, and might not call
them inhospitable. He shows himself to be sensitive and responsive to the various
avenues of this music and a thorough listener, as he lays out and rejoins the
others at critical junctures, always focused on the business at hand.
Malik's range of concept and delivery are compatible with Futterman and Adkins':
crisp, dense, full-toned passages are balanced with long notes that trail out
of volume and pitch as the music requires. He brings the kind of care to music
that transcends the nature and limits of his instrument, in the context of this
setting, his is an added voice in the best possible sense of the word.
Care is always precious, but in the case of this work, absolutely vital, for the
group was recorded under distinctive circumstances. Even before the project was
finalised, Egert had decided to schedule the date with engineer Pierre Sprey at
Mapleshade Studio. Sprey's recording approach is as uncompromising as it is unorthodox,
and in his studio the risks of creation may only be overcome by musicianship.
Sprey records with two microphones fixed in a proprietary array, suspended overhead
in a single, open sound room. There are no headphones for the players, no giant
control board, nor is there any heavy remedial management of recorded material.
The result is as clear and actual an acoustic sound as one might imagine which
is fair compensation for the musicians having shared the task of essentially performing
live without a sound system or an audience.
The trio is clearly comfortable in this setting, making the studio guidelines
as well suited to this project as any of the other challenges involved. Actually,
as large as the challenges here might seem, they are also quite compatible. The
story at hand is not fragrant, lighthearted or neatly clothed, but it works as
a superb dance partner with the parameters of New Music.
Similarly, the altered Wall has proven to be well paired with its new requirements
as a tactile, conductive meeting place and shrine. Along with the American Vietnam
Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Wall suggests that the uses we now
have for such structures might finally move beyond barricade and more fully toward
remembrance. The day may come where we use them exclusively to help us, as with
improvised music, and as with a bent popular image of the tango, stare a glance
backward as we dance ahead to something different.
William Tandy Young