|| Hal Russell - Joel Futterman Quartet
Cat. No.: SHCD135
Hal Russell trumpet, tenor and soprano saxophones
Joel Futterman piano, recorder
Jay Oliver bass
Robert Adkins drums
1. Part I: 278,000 Shades (Joel Futterman) 19:30
2. Part II: Solid Colours (Joel Futterman) 21:56
3. Part III: Naked Colours (Joel Futterman) 23:41
Total time: 65:09
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"Mostly one is washed over in a turbulent gush of geyser power like the wild
snaking of a firehose on the rampage. Russell has a worthy sidekick in Joel Futterman,
whose manic, deftly fingered piano playing blows up a storm. Textures collide
and capsize, thrown upon each other with not a thought for thrift or stability.
These two manically ecstatic musicians are backed up by virtuoso bass and drums
Thomas Millroth, Gränslöst, April 1996
"Futterman's blazing melody-tumbles fall into one another in a most impressive
cadence, but Russell's full tenor/sop/tpt range is also on breathtaking display
playful honking, upper-register overblowing, and manic flashing runs that
simply swing very f. hard. All spilling so much energy and sounding so alive that
any last date scenario claims would seem rather mawkishly inappropriate."
Nick Cain, Opprobrium, November 1996
Consider the chances. The brief musical association between Hal Russell and Joel Futterman is one of those lasting "what ifs." As products of Chicago's jazz scene they are a full generation removed. Until 1991, they had never met despite both having devoted 20 years to the uncompromising development of the free jazz form. They performed two concerts together, the first ever in Berlin for Joel and the last ever in Chicago for Hal.
Harold Luttenbacher, aka Hal Russell. The Charles Ives of free jazz; "Hal On
Earth"; sexagenarian; multi-instrumentalist; humorist; drummer and vibraphonist
sideman to Mildred Bailey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Erroll
Garner, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan; showman;
leader of the NRG Ensemble; sincere; father of Chicago's free jazz movement; always
dressed in a suit and tie; singer through large cardboard megaphones; irreverent;
"Hal The Weenie".
Joel Futterman. Father of the school of musical enlightenment through marathon
isolation; devoted family man; master of the three hand (pushing four) piano technique;
sideman to no one; author; leader with sometimes supporting cast of Jimmy Lyons
and Richard Davis; teacher; unknown master of the curved soprano; student of Clarence
Shaw; devotee to the art of extended improvisation; a hoops might-have-been.
Chicago, summer of 1991. After more than 40 years of dues, Hal had finally received
his first real musical break. ECM had just signed Hal and his NRG Ensemble to
a multi-record contract. It was the kind of contract Hal had originally changed
his name for so many years before. ECM had also arranged a European tour to promote
the releases. It was the first time Hal hadn't worried if he was going to be able
to pay his hotel bill.
During this same period, Joel Futterman was coming out of a seven year period
of isolation. There had been four new releases in the previous two years, and
he decided to take a trip back to Chicago to check-out the scene. It was on this
trip that he first heard Hal perform.
After his gig, Joel introduced himself to Hal and said simply that they ought
to be playing together. They talked through the night and agreed that sometime,
someplace in the world, they would perform together.
Berlin, December 1991. From the moment video images of the Berlin Wall being ripped
from the earth were flashed around the world, Joel Futterman knew he had to go
there to perform. It had been almost a year, to the date, that he had recorded
the premier of his acclaimed Berlin Images Suite (Silkheart 131). The year had
been an intense period of woodshedding and composition, and now it was time for
Joel arranged a series of performance dates around his and Hal's schedules, and
the Franz Club, east of Checkpoint Charlie, was to be their first public performance.
The trip was also funded, in part, by three days of master jazz classes at the
University of Berlin. Joel asked Hal if he would sit in with him during the classes
and it was there, in those classes, that Joel and Hal first performed together.
Before a group of a dozen jazz students, a musical partnership, 20 years in the
making, came into being. What were originally intended to be three one-hour classes,
turned into three days of extended performances lasting 6 to 8 hours a day. By
the end of the three days, Hal had exhausted his ever present supply of vitamins
and heart medication.
Naked Colours, Joel composed this work earlier in the year based on a poem that
I had written. Originally conceived as a solo piano composition, Joel decided
to expand the score for a quartet, with Hal in mind, once the decision was made
to perform the work while in Berlin.
The music was a natural for Hal, both as a multi-instrumentalist and composer.
The composition's framework would give Hal the opportunity to stretch far more
than the sound of the NRG Ensemble would allow. Robert Adkins, Joel's only drummer
for the past 12 years, would provide the quartet's center of gravity. And Joel
was comfortable that Jay Oliver, a noted former member of Cecil Taylor's European
ensemble could provide the music with a solid foundation.
The rehearsal. The quartet's rehearsal on December 16th was typical of Futterman's
rehearsals just before a performance. He handed the various parts around and then
asked that they be put aside. The music he had painstakingly written just six
months earlier, would now serve only as the briefest of roadmaps to their performance.
As Joel explained, "the music represented the composition as it should have been
performed then, not now."
As always in Futterman's rehearsals, the emphasis was on listening. Robert can
read Joel's cues in his sleep and he guided Jay through the rhythms. Hal and Joel,
fresh from their three days of master classes, spent most of their time discussing
the nuances of listening while performing. Joel went through the heads a couple
of times at half tempo, and then they all went off in search of Hal's vitamins.
The recording. Naked Colours, like many of Futterman's compositions, is divided
between three extended uninterrupted sections. Joel opens the first section, "Part
I: 278,000 Shades", with a breakneck solo piano tempo statement of the head. This
solo, while putting the listener on guard for what is to come, serves an even
more important role of letting the musicians know the opening tempo
There is no turning back once you're on stage with Futterman. He likes to keep
his opening tempos to himself until the moment they are played. It is a high risk
maneuver that few would think of attempting, but in the hands of two leaders like
Futterman and Russell, the result is more than commensurate with the risk.
The remainder of the first section is reminiscent of Futterman's earlier inyour-face
quartet work with Jimmy Lyons and Richard Davis. Futterman's driving, high energy
piano phrasing is supported by the solid bass work of Jay Oliver and the exceptionally
tight drum work of Robert Adkins, who has long since grown accustomed to playing
off the metronome behind Joel. Hal Russell, while lacking Jimmy Lyons' lyricism
and technique, more than compensates for any comparison by his intensely personal
compositional approach, which complements Futterman's phrasing like a well worn
glove. The section closes with a duet between Hal on soprano and Joel on recorder.
(Incidentally, this may come as a surprise to long time listeners of Futterman's
music since this is the first recording of him playing an instrument other than
the piano. )
The second section, "Part II: Solid Colours" provides a vehicle for the quartet
members' only real solo opportunities. The section, led initially by
Hal's powerhouse tenor, picks up where the composition opened with a strong restatement
of the initial head. Following an extended bridge featuring Futterman's three-hand
technique, Robert Adkins moves through some extremely tasteful snaproll work paying
homage to his mentor, Philly Joe Jones. From here, Jay Oliver displays his prodigious,
if unrecognised, bowing technique while double-stopping his way up the bridge.
This section comes to a close with Futterman leading the group through an extended
development of the composition's major phrases, picking them apart one-by-one
in a sophisticated rebuttal of free jazz criticism.
The third and last section, "Part III: Naked Colours", explores the rhythms and
dynamics only alluded to in the first two sections. Continuously roaming between
the extremes of both, the music is graphic testimony to the critical importance
Joel places on his musicians listening, to remain in harmony with the music. Such
are the music's demands, that I would hazard this final section could not have
been performed with the same clarity of purpose until after almost forty minutes
of extended concentrated listening on the quartet's part.
The composition closes abruptly, just as it began, with the same crashing piano
arpeggio of the opening. This Futterman trademark of bringing an extended performance
to a close with a sudden reappearance of the opening statement has never been
more effective. The composition is obviously concluded, yet it hangs in the air
awaiting the next note.
Philip R. Egert
P.S. Following this Berlin concert, Hal Russell and Joel Futterman performed together only once. Hal's health off stage was clearly on the wane in Berlin, but the strength of his performance belied anything to the contrary. His last concert was with Joel in Chicago, just a few months before his declining health forced him to give up performing.
A week before his death, Hal and Joel spoke for the last time. Hal called to find
out if this recording was going to be released. It was very important to him that
people remembered this Berlin concert. He considered it a fitting capstone to
his 40 year musical journey.